Low teacher pay means fewer applicants in South Dakota

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Sioux Falls, SD “This is the most vacancies we've had at this point in the summer in 11 years,” Sioux Falls School District’s Human Resource Supervisor Becky Dorman said.

The Sioux Falls school district is still looking to fill 27 open positions for the next year school. School administrators all over South Dakota say they are all struggling to find enough applicants for open teaching positions—especially in fields like special education.

“If you were to ask any administrator in South Dakota, they’d tell you it is very difficult to find applicants for special education positions right now,” Dorman said.

Many state leaders say teacher pay is blame. The National Education Association says the annual teacher pay in South Dakota averages about $40,000, the lowest in the nation. The numbers get even lower for teachers just starting out in South Dakota.

"My first year was quite an adventure, it was a lot of work, that's for sure. I'd go in at six in the morning and stay until six or seven at night, just trying to make sure I'm prepared," second-year teacher Johannah Jensen said.

Jensen just wrapped up her first year of teaching in Sioux Falls, making a financial sacrifice to stay in South Dakota.

"I was offered a job in Minnesota and they payed a lot more, but I decided to hold off and wait because I wanted to come home," Jensen said.

"I've always enjoyed kids and watching them learn and watching them grow. It's really what led me in to teaching," former teacher Lee Glanzer said.

Glanzer made a similar financial sacrifice to fulfill his dream of becoming a teacher, but he finally decided to throw in the towel at the end of last school year.

"I had to look at my future; I have a family, I have three small kids, and another one coming in October and it was getting very hard to justify doing that kind of work for that kind of money," Glanzer said.

While Glanzer says he thoroughly enjoyed being a teacher, his new job in construction management means a big boost for his family.

"I make a significantly more money doing what I do now than when I was teaching," Glanzer said.

He says his new career field also has room for growth, unlike many of South Dakota's teaching positions.

"Ten years from now if I would have stayed in education I would have had the same job title and been making the same amount of money," Glanzer said.

Jensen says that outlook may change her mind once she starts a family.

"Right now I am on my own, and I'm OK just having to survive off Ramen Noodles or whatever, it will definitely be a piece to think about in the future," Jensen said.

But for now, she's doing whatever it takes to continue teaching.

"I have two jobs in the summer and I'll probably continue one of them into the school year," Jensen said.

While South Dakota's lawmakers could not agree on a solution to low teacher pay this past legislative session, a task force has been set up to look into issues in the state's educational system. The teacher shortage is sure to be a top priority.

Local school districts say it's not uncommon for the hiring process to continue all the way up to the start of the school year. With the higher number of openings right now, schools may have to make some adjustments to make things work with their current staff.