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Retention efforts and signing bonuses butt heads in Sioux Falls schools

Sioux Falls School District

The Sioux Falls School District is offering a $10,000 dollar signing bonus for new special education hires. While those teachers are in high demand across the nation, some established teachers feel left behind by the proposal.

Currently, there are significant special education gaps within the Sioux Falls School District, which reflects the wider shortage of such teachers across South Dakota.

Becky Dorman is the districts senior HR director. She reported local special education needs at the most recent school board meeting.

"Prior to sending out the information about the incentives, that would have been last Monday, we had nearly 20 vacancies and four candidates," Dorman said. "Not all four of those candidates had special ed certification, which this is not unlike what we saw last year at this time. After it went out, we now have 20 applicants, and six of these twenty they do have their special ed certification.”

Board president Kate Serenbetz said it’s an effort to deepen the pool of candidates.

“As we cast our net broader, trying to recruit certified people to apply, that the stipend or incentive would help attract people to move, it would help moving costs, moving to the district," Serenbetz said. "There are so many layers to it we have to obviously consider and that’s one of them.”

For the veteran special education teacher though, questions are being asked about the utility of signing bonuses over retention efforts. Lori Pokela teaches at Memorial Middle School.

“What is being done to protect and retain highly qualified, veteran special education teachers," Pokela asked. "Another quote from the Sioux Falls School District, ‘the district will continue to seek strategies to recruit and retain teachers in severe applicant shortage areas.’ The word ‘continue’ implies that strategies to retain teachers has been sought. What are these strategies?”

As of this article being published, the signing bonuses are still being offered on the district’s job listing page.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture