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Rapid City Focuses on Raising New Teacher Pay, Per Pierre’s Orders, Against Research on Experienced Educators

The Rapid City school board and its teachers can’t agree on how to distribute the new $5.2 million appropriated by the state to raise teacher pay to regionally competitive levels. The fundamental conflict lies in the board’s plan to focus the money on new teachers and take away automatic raises for experience and continuing education for veteran teachers.

Based on my calculations, Rapid City is getting enough new money from the state to give each of its 900-some teachers raises of $3,800 to $5,700, depending on how much of the new money they allocate to benefits and overhead, per the new funding formula. According to Superintendent Tim Mitchell’s press release following the union’s rejection of the plan, the board is replacing its salary schedule with the following four main planks:

  1. Raise starting pay $8,000—from $32K to $40K.
  2. Step new teachers up to $50K in five years.
  3. Raise salaries for veteran teachers making over $50K by $3,000 this year.
  4. Make future raises for teachers at or above $50K contingent on negotiations and new money from the Legislature.

Dr. Mitchell offers numbers showing that, under the board’s proposal, a fifth-year teacher could see a jump of $15,000:

To be clear, we value all of our teachers, but here are the facts: our first-year teachers start at $32,000 per year. After working in our district for five years, they make $34,922. That is not anywhere near the $48,500 average that our taxpayers and legislators expect us to reach. Again, in an effort to follow the intent of the law, we proposed that a much larger portion of the new money go to teachers making under $50,000 [Supt. Tim Mitchell, press release, Rapid City Area Schools, 2016.06.01].

What’s that about “the intent of the law”? Ah, yes, the Steinhauer amendment. Recall that after Rep. Jacqueline Sly (R-33/Rapid City) got done taking $6 million away from mostly small schools with her amendment nixing the two-year enrollment stabilizer, Rep. Wayne Steinhauer (R-9/Hartford) tacked the following declaration of legislative intent onto Senate Bill 131, the new K-12 funding formula:

It is the intent of the Legislature that any money appropriated for teacher compensation using the education funding plan included in this Act be used to directly improve teacher recruiting and retention and that the school districts advance this goal by increasing starting teacher salaries and providing for the rapid acceleration of teacher salaries for those below the midpoint in that teacher’s applicable pay scale [Senate Bill 131, Section 28, as amended, 2016.03.08].

The board’s plan does indeed align with the new formula’s intent: boost base pay and accelerate raises below the midpoint to encourage recruitment of new teachers. But does it align with good policy?

An eager reader fortuitously forwards this new report from the Learning Policy Institute on the benefits of having experienced teachers:

As teachers gain experience—both within their first few years in the classroom as well as later in their careers—they are better able to foster student learning. This is particularly true when teachers are working in supportive and collegial school environments where teachers engage in common planning and share in decision-making, school staff are focused on a shared vision for student achievement, and principals are supportive. A more stable and experienced teaching staff benefits students across the entire school, as more experienced teachers are better able to support their less experienced colleagues in producing student achievement. Importantly, retention is also higher in this type of school environment, creating a virtuous cycle in which supportive and collegial schools are able to attract and retain excellent, experienced teachers, who are the ones best positioned to contribute to school-wide learning and greater student achievement [Tara Kini and Anne Podolsky, “Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness? A Review of the Research,” Learning Policy Institute, June 2016, p. 29].

So not only do veteran teachers do more for our kids, but they also help the new teachers do more for our kids.

And you know how Rapid City has a higher proportion of low-income and American Indian students than many South Dakota school districts? Teacher experience matters there, too:

The pursuit of policies to simultaneously build an experienced, continually-learning teaching workforce while reducing teacher turnover also makes economic sense. A study published in 2007 found that, at that time, the costs to school districts of replacing a teacher who leaves in the early part of her career ranged from $4,366 in a small rural district to nearly $18,000 in a large urban district, at an estimated national cost of more than $7 billion annually. With these costs likely even higher today, this is not a wise use of scarce resources that could instead be used to create conditions which would retain teachers and improve their effectiveness. Given the research demonstrating that teacher effectiveness improves, on average, with experience, policies to keep experienced teachers in the classroom and reduce teacher turnover can increase student achievement and reduce student absenteeism. In turn, this can contribute to long-term economic benefits to students and to taxpayers in terms of reduced grade retention, special education costs, and drop out rates. Such policies are especially critical for schools serving large concentrations of low-income students and students of color, who are more likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers churning through their schools [Kini and Podolsky, 2016, p. 29].

Enhanced compensation and opportunities to avoid flat career trajectories are among the policy Kini and Podolsky’s policy recommendations for keeping experienced teachers. Rapid City’s faithful implementation of the Steinhauer amendment may recruit new teachers (although the state’s target average salary of $48,500 still leaves Rapid City $9,000 behind the estimated current average pay in Wyoming), but it falls short on retaining experienced teachers.

The board has declared an impasse, which means the board can now impose whatever salary agreement it wants (which makes clear the actual power of the teachers’ union in South Dakota).


  1. Jason Sebern 2016-06-06 08:33

    What options do the Rapid City educators have at this point? Cory, what would you do if you were a classroom teacher in the Rapid City school system?

  2. mike from iowa 2016-06-06 09:42

    Sounds like pols have gotten administrators and teacher’s union going at each other’s throats and probably by design.

  3. Steve Sibson 2016-06-06 09:57

    So after the big fight with teachers coveting poor people’s money, the teachers are now fighting among themselves for who is going to get more of the money.

  4. Rob 2016-06-06 10:09

    How many legislators took the heat for not supporting these bills knowing the negative impact it would have on their teachers? How many supported the bill, also aware of this, but wanted to use their support of so called “teacher pay increase” for their campaign gains. Kudos to the RC teachers and their teachers union standing firm on this issue. Not all unions are putting their full effort into what’s right for all teachers. Pretty sad considering that’s why teachers pay so much to be a part of the organization. Curious to know how Sioux Falls is handling their teacher pay increases.

  5. Bill B 2016-06-06 10:16

    Administration and the school board are putting more importance on recruiting new teachers than retaining experienced ones. Isn’t that the opposite of what the Sioux Falls school district is doing, and different than the mixed approach Aberdeen used?

  6. Greg 2016-06-06 10:50

    Less than a week into a 20% increase in state sale tax we hear that it is not enough. How much will it take to satisfy them. All winter we heard this was a great deal for the teachers as it turns out this was for Commercial tax relief.

  7. Donald Pay 2016-06-06 10:51

    This is the problem with top down education policy. RCAS should not impose a salary schedule that does harm to its experienced teacher corp. It should negotiate a fair deal that doesn’t encourage experienced teachers to leave the state.

  8. Darin Larson 2016-06-06 12:24

    Greg- check your math. Last time I did the math, a half penny increase on a four penny sales tax is a 12.5% increase–not 20%.

  9. Donald Pay 2016-06-06 15:07

    The language of the “legislative intent” is fine, but it really does need to be fleshed out, as was done in the 1970s and 1980s for state employees. Back then the idea of “mid-point of job worth” was based on a very complete and complex study. No one just assumed a single “mid-point” for everyone. The study looked at what various responsibilities, experience levels and education levels meant on the private market, and adjusted salary levels for state employees in that way. I’m sure it could be done for teachers, too, but it needs careful study that will be accepted by all concerned—teachers, administration and taxpayers.

    Yeah, looking at the RCAS information, I think you do want to give a boost to beginning salaries and to make the salary schedule a bit more inviting for less experienced teachers. However, you could do that in a way that wouldn’t totally demoralize the veteran teachers.

    And there’s another thing that has to be considered. Each district has different strategies for how it fills vacancies. When I was in Rapid, the district tried to fill vacancies by poaching experienced teachers, not by hiring first year teachers. If that is still the policy, it does make sense to not compress the wage schedule so much that you make that option less viable.

  10. owen 2016-06-06 15:33

    They just have to do what a lot of school districts have done. Give everybody a flat amount for a raise and then a certain percentage on top of that. New teachers get more money with the experienced teachers receiving the bigger raises earned through their experience.
    Seems fair and everybody wins.

  11. Bill B 2016-06-06 15:54

    Owen, that is an intelligent suggestion, but some administrators and school boards aren’t open to that type of compromise. It’s about control and pushing their own agenda. This is most apparent in districts where the board along with adminstration have an ax to grind with their local teacher union.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-06-06 15:55

    Yes, Bill—we’re seeing a variety of approaches. This demonstrates the state-level version of federalism (what do we call that? Stateralism?) at work in school funding: schools are free to take different approaches to recruitment and retention, but their policies are constrained by the funding parameters set by the Legislature. Rapid City could do more on veteran retention, Sioux Falls could do more on new recruitment, and Aberdeen could bump up the numbers for both groups if they weren’t dealing with a compromised half-solution from Pierre. We are not done with teacher pay yet—we are not getting to truly competitive salaries in this one reform.

  13. owen 2016-06-06 16:13

    I agree with you Bill. But some see this and say teachers are coveting more money. Well, no not really. They are just discussing how to share the new money and I’m not surprised that there are a few problems.
    Some people want to make it more then it is.

  14. Greg 2016-06-06 16:19

    Dain, bad math on my part. 12.5% is still a big increase for people that live paycheck to paycheck. It’s too bad that there isn’t a formula that would make all teachers happy. There is too much variance from starting teachers wages to experienced teachers wages and from school to school. I am afraid that we are a long ways away from a solution that will satisfy all teachers. #All Teachers Matter.

  15. Bill B 2016-06-06 16:34

    Owen, I’m with you. It’s easy for people see the story in a negative light. I can tell you, the teachers I know are greatful, and the only issue deals with how to fairly share the funds. Differing opinions should be expected.

  16. chuck standen 2016-06-06 17:19

    The Spearfish District eliminated their salary schedule over 10 years ago so it could increase the base salary without automatically raising the salaries of experienced teachers. The results: 1) salary compression, there are several teachers with 4 or more years of experience earning only $16.00 per year over the base; 2) low retention, currently over 50% of the teachers have been in the District 4 or fewer years; 3) fewer teachers are going back to school to earn advanced degrees as the District rarely rewards teacher for either experience or advanced degrees. There is a solution; rather than a traditional step-and-lane salary schedule, school districts could employ a tiered salary schedule that recognizes experience, advanced degree(s), and other parameters–for example, participation in a mentorship program–that would be negotiated by both parties. Thus far the Spearfish District has resisted any efforts to address this issue.

  17. Douglas Wiken 2016-06-06 18:55

    Teachers are professional whiners. They get accustomed to managing kid’s lives and assume every adult should be similarly submissive. They and attorneys and doctors are all almost always real pains to deal with.

    The justification for the increased sales tax was to get the starting salaries increased. Using only percentage increases in salaries greatly favors the already top paid and the spread between top and bottom greatly increases over a period of years. The teachers must understand that when they see administrators who mostly sit on their dead asses getting $10,000 to $20,000 increases when the teachers may get a few hundred if they are on the bottom end.

    It makes sense to increase starting pay if we don’t want all the new graduates to leave SD immediately and then wonder why our communities are dying because no young people stay in them.

  18. grudznick 2016-06-06 19:55

    Indeed, Mr. Wiken! Indeed.

  19. owen reitzel 2016-06-06 20:48

    So Mr. Wiken, a teacher who has been teaching for years is to be rewarded by giving them less of a raise? Don’t think so.
    Those experienced teachers have been last in pay for decades doing great work even though they have to put up with people with your attitude.
    Whiners? No, just just asking for what is fair. Of course teachers aren’t paid like doctors or lawyers.

    I’ve already said what seems to be fair. Give everybody a raise and then give them a percentage after that. more than fair.

  20. Sharon Vestal 2016-06-06 21:39

    This has occurred in higher education forever. New faculty get brought in with higher salaries than current faculty. I did it to one of my colleagues and it has happened to me several times in the last 10 years. I understand part of the reason–they need to increase the pay of new hires to get them to come to South Dakota and possibly stay here.
    It looks like this will now happen in some districts with K-12 teachers. In the past K-12 salaries have always increased based on experience so this is new to K-12 teachers.
    I don’t have a solution, but I have been a victim of this salary practice for 20 years. For me, this illustrates the need for South Dakota to increase wages in all professions–and that is going to cost money!

  21. Donald Pay 2016-06-06 21:50

    I’ve said this before. If teachers are professional whiners, they aren’t very good at it.

    What’s wrong with negotiating a fair raise for everyone. I think the lower paid teachers (generally newer teachers) need to get a bigger bump up than experienced teachers. I think salary schedules tend to get out of line over time because there are more experienced teachers than new teachers, and unions are democratic institutions that serve the majority of members. So, over time the lower salary levels for new teachers don’t get as much pressure or attention during negotiations.

    However, you have to be fairer than the Rapid district is being to the experienced teachers. Compressing the wage rates as much as Rapid is doing is dumb. It creates too much animosity.

  22. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-06-06 23:06

    By the way, Greg, for the record, I’ve been saying the Blue Ribbon proposals were only the first step, not a final solution, since they came out. Teacher should not be satisfied. We need to look for ways to make our teacher salaries truly competitive and fund those salaries with a more progressive tax system.

  23. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-06-06 23:13

    Chuck, the fact that Spearfish—Spearfish! One of the most beautiful, interesting, fun cities in South Dakota, with a school district I found wonderful to work in—can’t retain teachers should show that no community in South Dakota can just coast on its own wonderfulness and hope that people will stick around even when they are not paid what they are worth.

    Jason, to your question at the very top: the first thing I’d do would be go for a bike ride up the Hansen-Larsen trails. Then I’d come back and be torqued, if I were at the top of the scale, seeing a salary schedule that allowed me to plan my financial future with some reliability thrown out the window and any future raises past $50K tied to the whims of the Legislature.

    Then I’d run for Legislature. (Yes, Adam, in District 33! :-D)

  24. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-06-06 23:21

    Owen, I’d advocate an even simpler solution. The Blue Ribbon money was intended to address one major problem: South Dakota’s last-place average teacher salary. We’ve been stiffing every teacher in the state for two generations. We should use the money very simply to rectify that one problem. Take the $60M+, divide it into equal raises for every teacher. We can debate the other inequities in the teacher pay system later; right now, make it clear that we are raising every teacher up from the gutter, up from the professional disrespect we’ve given every one of them with substandard pay. That’s the moral failing for which we should atone right now.

  25. Douglas Wiken 2016-06-07 10:59

    No raises would maintain the present inequity between top and bottom just as percentage increases do. Percentage increases should be ended in favor of lump sums that are the same for all teachers or others working for government. Percentage increases over time lead to huge inequity between work and pay. SD Government is an example. When I worked in State government, there was not a lot of difference between executive pay and starting pay and regular pay of clerical workers. Now SD has something like 200 executives getting over $100,000 or $200,000 per year and bottom end is still very close to minimum wage.

  26. Paladn 2016-06-07 16:46

    Problem in South Dakota: Low Average Teacher Salaries
    Legislative Solution: Increase funding for School for Teacher Salary Result:
    Accomplished by 2016 Legislature and Governor
    Goal of Rapid City School Board and School Attorney: Destroy Bargained Salary Schedule
    Goal of RCEA: Spread Increases in salaries equally for all teachers and, thereby, increase average teacher salary in RC district
    Problem: District cannot achieve their goal while meeting RCEA goal
    RESULT: RC School Board and School Attorney declares Impasse and hope to impose their contract.

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