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Teachers reap higher pay as result of sales-tax increase to 4.5%

PIERRE -- Raising the state sales tax appears to have partially solved the problem of low pay for teachers in South Dakota. Gov. Dennis Daugaard's administration released preliminary data Thursday showing the average salary for a teacher in a pub...

PIERRE - Raising the state sales tax appears to have partially solved the problem of low pay for teachers in South Dakota.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard's administration released preliminary data Thursday showing the average salary for a teacher in a public school rose to $46,924.

This is an increase of 11.9 percent above the $41,940 average last year, but still short of the governor's goal of $48,500.

The Legislature last winter agreed with the governor's proposal to increase the sales tax to 4.5 percent from 4 percent.

Of the estimated $106 million in additional revenue, the plan provided $67 million more for school districts, but also changed the funding formula for distributing state aid to schools.

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Public technical institutes received about $3 million for instructor raises and an estimated $36 million was to be used for property tax relief for businesses, rentals and second homes.

The data released Thursday reflects a wide range of average salaries and increases among the 150 school districts. All of the data was dependent on previous year salaries, the amount of teachers in a school district and the spending choices made by local school boards in setting their budgets for this year.

Districts with average salary increases of 6 percent or less are Britton-Hecla, Custer, Edmunds Central, Groton, Hoven, Lead-Deadwood, Lyman, Northwestern, Redfield and Tripp-Delmont.

Districts with average salary increases of 18 percent or more are Baltic, Brandon Valley, Burke, De Smet, Elk Mountain, Estelline, Ethan, Faith, Florence, Gayville-Volin, Grant-Deuel, Iroquois, Jones County, Leola, Mobridge-Pollock, Montrose, Oelrichs, Smee, Viborg-Hurley, Wall and Waubay.

Waubay had the largest percentage increase at 26.3 percent, as its average rose from $33,318 last year to $42,068 this year.

Mobridge-Pollock had the largest dollar increase of $9,466. The jump was 25 percent from $37,907 last year to $43,373 this year.

Eric Stroeder, a Mobridge-Pollock school board member, lobbied at the Legislature last winter for the salary package. At the time, he was also the president of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota.

Stroeder said he had figured the salaries would average approximately $46,500, or about $400 below the actual average so far.

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He said staffing decisions made by school boards helped determine the amount of raises for their teachers. Schools that have lower student-to-teacher ratios would have to spread their money among more teachers, he said.

"We figured this would happen but that is local control and should be a local decision. I also think some schools gave the minimum required because they are trying to figure this thing out and still don't trust the Legislature," Stroeder said. "I mean why overcommit and have the rug pulled out by the Legislature. This should improve as we move forward and schools feel more comfortable with the new formula."

School districts were required to report their preliminary salary data this fall. A special state board will monitor each district annually to determine whether the additional money is used primarily for teacher salaries as intended.

Stroeder said it appears at least a few school districts will have to face the accountability board and explain their situations.

The challenge looming for the governor and legislators is ensuring there is enough cash to pay for the program this budget year. For July through October, the state government's ongoing revenue was $20 million below the estimates adopted by the Legislature.

The governor is scheduled to speak to the Legislature on Dec. 6 to deliver his budget recommendation for fiscal 2018, which begins July 1, 2017.

Among larger school districts, the numbers varied Thursday. Here's a sample:

Aberdeen rose from $43,438 to $48,786, up 12.3 percent;

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Brookings rose from $41,560 to $46,318, up 11.4 percent;

Douglas climbed from $49,535 to $54,532, up 10.1 percent;

Huron rose from $42,971 to $48,552, up 13 percent;

Mitchell went from $45,837 to $51,802, up 13 percent;

Pierre increased from $42,310 to $47,300, up 11.8 percent;

Rapid City rose from $45,508 to $50,932, up 11.9 percent;

Sioux Falls climbed from $46,663 to $50,500, up 8.2 percent;

Watertown increased from $45,300 to $50,330, up 11.1 percent; and

Yankton climbed from $45,758 to $50,137, up 9.6 percent.

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