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At Back to-School Time, Many SD Schools Struggling to Hire Teachers

August 24, 2007

In South Dakota, students and teachers are preparing for another school year. However, many districts are finding that a lack of adequate funding is making it difficult to recruit and retain teachers. Florence High School Superintendent Gary Leighton says the number of college students entering the teaching profession isn’t what it was ten years ago and low teacher pay is a key factor. He says it’s also tough for South Dakota schools to compete with higher salaries in neighboring states.

"Teaching is an excellent occupation, but it does have to bear some resemblance to what you pay to acquire your education to be a teacher. And everybody has bills to pay. They have to live. They want a certain standard. And we are especially deficient in the ability we have to compensate people."

South Dakota Education Association president Donna DeKraai says many South Dakota schools are still scrambling to fill positions for this school year. She says that salary is a key factor and the problem won’t get fixed unless lawmakers make education a top priority.

"At some point in time, our communities are going to have to understand if they’re going to keep the highly qualified teachers and educational support staff that, indeed, we’re going to have to address, not only the funding but the respect issue in our schools."

DeKraai says teacher retention has become a major concern for South Dakota.

"Even if they do go into education and come into our systems many of them will leave in the first five years. So, even if we get them into education we still have to work on retaining them once they go into the setting itself. It’s continually going to be a problem for us as we work through the next five to ten years, I’m sure."

DeKraai says the start of a new school year is exciting for both teachers and students, but as long as teacher pay remains low in South Dakota, keeping those teachers in the profession while ensuring a good education for children will be a continual challenge.

David Law/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - SD