Task force, Governor propose retention plan

IAN LACK Reporter

Student organizations host Daugaard’s task force to discuss teacher retention

South Dakota recently came under fire for its lack of adequate teacher pay.

It was reported across multiple media outlets that South Dakota is the lowest-paying state in the nation when it comes to teacher salary. In addition to that, the state has also seen a drastic shortage of available working teachers within state lines.

In response to this, Governor Dennis Daugaard appointed over two dozen educators, state representatives and other community leaders to the Blue Ribbon Task Force in February to investigate where the problems surrounding the education system in South Dakota originate and how to properly address them.

For months, the task force traveled throughout the state, visiting schools and meeting with educators and students, gathering information on how legislators in Pierre could improve education environments in South Dakota. The panel did this again Nov. 5 in Rotunda D with a 200-member audience listening in on the task force’s progress improving education.

The Student National Education Association on campus requested that the task force extend some of its members to campus to participate in a panel hosted and set up by the student organization with the aid of eight other student organizations.

SNEA is an on-campus professional organization of aspiring teachers from all content areas. Members stress the professional development, political action, service learning and the promotion of teaching as a profession for students.

The student organization meets each month to discuss education topics with its roughly 30 members as well as any undergraduates who are studying to become a teacher. The club also manages service projects each semester, like a partnership with local schools for project English Language Learners (ELL). The organization has also visited Pierre to investigate exactly how education is being managed in South Dakota.

As SNEA president and early childhood and elementary education major Mackenzie Gough led the roughly two-hour discussion with panelists, including SDSU students as well as four of the Blue Ribbon Task Force panel members: Steven O’Brien, an English teacher from Watertown High School, Kevin Teztaff, CEO of First Bank & Trust in Brookings, Representative of District 9, Paula Hawks, and Superintendent of Burke School District, Erik Person.

The panel discussed the benefits of raising teacher income, ways South Dakota could attract more teachers and how to overall improve the classroom settings across the state.

“We need to start paying better attention to who we’re hiring in South Dakota to educate our children,” O’Brien said. “Just because I’ve watched just about every season of House doesn’t mean I can walk into a hospital and start giving orders. The same should apply to how we hire our educators in this state.”

The panel helped to make students more aware of what was going on behind the scenes, said SNEA vice president Paige Meester.

The panel’s audience was comprised of many of SDSU’s education majors. The panel’s information on the problems facing South Dakota teachers resonated with most of the audience, including SNEA president Gough.

“If the legislature did raise teacher pay in South Dakota, I would stay because I love Brookings, and I love the community,” Gough said. “It’s just that I want a family and I don’t think I can support a family on a $40,000 income when I can do better in Iowa. I just hope things get better for teachers here.”

After months of research, the task force has proposed a $75 million plan for education in the state. The plan would increase annual teacher salary from an average of $40,000 to an average of $48,000.