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38 SD schools face penalties for not allotting funds for teacher pay correctly

The Corsica-Stickney School District was one of six school districts in the state that did not follow a state law for fiscal year 2017 that states a school district’s average teacher compensation must increase by 85 percent of the percentage increase in state aid. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)

CORSICA — As South Dakota works to meet its goal of increasing its lowest-in-the-nation average teacher salary, some school districts aren't helping the cause.

Thirty-eight school districts violated either one or both of two "accountabilities" established by the state Legislature to ensure schools are using the appropriate amount of funds generated by a half-percent sales tax increase to bolster teacher salaries.

The first accountability states that a school district's total teacher compensation must increase by 85 percent of the increase in state aid, while the second states a school district's average teacher compensation must increase by 85 percent of the percentage increase in state aid, according to SDCL 13-13-73.6.

While six districts, including Corsica-Stickney, violated the second accountability, 32 violated accountability No. 1.

Corsica-Stickney missed its mark of increasing average teacher compensation by $779, or 1.4 percent, meaning it allotted 83.6 percent of the money generated by the sales tax increase to teacher pay. But, in total, Corsica-Stickney pays its teachers $1,186,034, passing its goal of $1,181,580. Superintendent Scott Muckey could not be reached for comment.

The nearly 40 schools in violation will each face penalties.

Unless the state's School Finance Accountability Board waives the penalties, the districts' state aid to their general education funding in fiscal year 2018 will be decreased by 50 percent of the increase in local need, according to the DOE.

"There could be unique circumstances as to why some districts didn't meet the accountabilities," said Mary Stadick Smith, spokesperson for the SD DOE. "There are lots of reasons how and why that would happen, and legislators realized that. That's why they set up this board to take a look at those unique circumstances."

The six school districts that violated the state legislation stating a school district's average teacher compensation must increase by 85 percent of the percentage increase in state aid were Corsica-Stickney, Herreid, Hoven, New Underwood, Kadoka and White River. New Underwood missed its mark by 2 percent — the highest percentage in the state — leaving a total of $1,147 out of teachers' pockets.

'Still an issue'

Overall, officials with the South Dakota Department of Education have voiced pleasure with the state's success as a whole, noting that South Dakota increased its average teacher salary by 8.8 percent between fiscal years 2016 and 2017. While the state average sits at $45,625, nearly $3,000 behind the $48,500 goal, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard said he anticipates the upward trend to continue in the coming years.

Colome implemented an average salary increase of 18 percent, but Superintendent Ryan Orrock said it's not enough.

The increase will likely help retain teachers who are already employed by the district, Orrock said, but he doesn't anticipate the $41,038 average salary will entice new teachers to fill vacant positions.

"Teacher pay is still a real issue as we try to compete with surrounding states," Orrock said. "It's great for our teachers, they enjoy being paid more, but ultimately it doesn't help our general fund, and we're lucky we haven't had to go the opt-out route. There's a lot of work to be done in all areas of school funding, including teacher salaries."

Area districts in violation

Following is a list of area school districts in violation of at least one of the state's accountabilities:

Canistota, Colome, Corsica-Stickney, Jones County, Kimball, Lyman, Plankinton and Sanborn Central.