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Differential Pay Idea Gets a Thumbs Down from SD Teacher’s Group

November 2, 2007

Pierre, SD - Policymakers and educators agree that increasing teacher pay in South Dakota is important, but how to do it remains a sticking point. Some lawmakers would target more money for hard-to-fill positions, including teaching slots for science and math. Donna DeKraai with the South Dakota Education Association calls differential pay a bad idea because it "devalues" other teachers. She says paying one group of instructors more than others changes the teaching dynamics.

"In the field in which we live, public education, we work collaboratively. A system like they're talking about becomes competitive, and our whole purpose is to focus on the students. So, when you are offering different kinds of wages to attract or retain certain teachers, it becomes a conflict of interest, in that it becomes competitive."

DeKraai says every educator should be valued because they all have the same responsibility: to teach children.

"As a third grade teacher, I can talk about myself. I need that kindergarten and first grade teacher and second grade teacher, because they're the building blocks for the children that come to me in third grade. The same is true for middle school and high school. You have to have all teachers there in order for the child to learn, from the beginning of the time they come to us in school."

DeKraai calls differentiated pay a "short-term answer," when a long-term solution is needed.

"We want to make sure that we can offer new teachers coming into the profession, and those that are still with us, an opportunity to make a professional wage, to make sure we stay in the system. We know that what's best for students is a continuous, ongoing relationship with the public school teachers."

DeKraai believes the salary of every South Dakota teacher should be increased; that the neighboring states of Iowa, Minnesota, Wyoming, and North Dakota have all done better in recent years when it comes to improving teacher pay.

David Law/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - SD