South Dakota School Districts are deciding how to dole out more money for teacher pay. State lawmakers passed a tax increase to raise educator salaries. Now school leaders must choose how to distribute the money in their districts. In Sioux Falls, the board has unanimously approved a 6.8 percent increase for teachers.
The Sioux Falls School district has a salary schedule that determines pay. With more than $9 million in new money for teacher pay, educators in every step receive about seven percent more money. Brian Maher is the district superintendent.
"Beginning teachers are going to see a substantial increase in starting salary, our teachers who are early in their career are going to see substantial increases in their earning power in the first several years of their profession, and also teachers who are near the end of their career – who many times have had to just get what’s left over – are also going to see a substantial increase," Maher says.
Different districts decide how to divvy up their share of taxpayer dollars. That means some boards are approving salary increases based on percentages and others choose to offer teachers the same dollar amount, regardless of their current pay.
Maher says some South Dakota districts plan to increase starting salaries more than Sioux Falls, but this pay change is meaningful.
"I’m really excited to be able to speak to a new teacher about $35,752 right out of the chute and to talk to them about how quickly they can get to $50,000," Maher says. "And then to remember, on top of that, we have a really nice benefits package, so I think in education we really have something that we can market and we can draw quality people into the profession."
The Sioux Falls School Board is boosting all levels of teacher pay by the same percentage. High school teacher and Sioux Falls Education Association negotiator Travis Dahle says spreading the increases by an even percentage is best for teachers.
"Instead of just a two or three percent increase each year, they say, ‘Alright, for the first few years, it’s going to be that – but then you’re going to get a really big increase, because you’re invested in the Sioux Falls community then, we’ve invested in you, so we want you to get to those higher numbers because we value you," Dahle says. "So it allows Sioux Falls to really get teachers to a higher scale a lot quicker than a lot of the other school districts."
Dahle teaches speech and debate at Washington High School. He says the agreement between teachers and administrators is the right move.
"We joke about debater’s remorse where you look back and you say, ‘Gosh, I should have made this argument here,’ and a couple of us had that the last time," Dahle says. "But this time really, I think Dr. Maher summed it up perfectly when he said, ‘We’re not here to try and negotiate this or this. It’s, hey, we have this extra money; how can we best distribute it to teachers?’ So it really was a good feeling all around. And I mean, obviously there were different perspectives that we had on it than they had that we had to hash out, but overall I think it’s not a win or a loss. We really think of it as a double win for everybody."
The South Dakota legislature is targeting pay increases at certified teachers. The Sioux Falls School District’s pay raise applies to classroom teachers plus people in eight other categories including counselors, school nurses, librarians, speech therapists, integration specialists, social workers, psychologists, and teachers on special assignments like instructional coaches.
For the next several weeks, Sioux Falls leaders are negotiating salary increases for people who work in non-teaching jobs like kitchen staff, custodians, and administrators. The superintendent says they will see smaller pay bumps, but all employees can expect raises.