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South Dakota committee OKs teacher pay law another three years

South Dakota school districts would be required to maintain teacher salaries above 2017 levels until 2024, if the bill were to become law.

Rep. Hugh Bartels, R-Watertown, is a legislator from South Dakota.
JOHNNY SUNDBY
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PIERRE — A bill passed out of South Dakota's House Education committee that would extend the so-called Blue Ribbon Task Force rules on teacher pay to extend for another three years.

Prime sponsor of House Bill 1080 , Rep. Hugh Bartels , R-Watertown, told the committee on Monday, Jan. 24, that extending a requirement that schools not dip below pay levels for 2017 is necessary as over 30 districts across the state are "within 3%" of that basement threshold.

"This is why we put this bill in," Bartels said.

A recommendation from the 2016 Blue Ribbon task force, organized under then-Gov. Dennis Daugaard, codified in state law setting teacher pay levels never go below rates in 2017 — which marked the first year school boards gathered proceeds from a half-cent sales tax and were required to spend 85% of new funds on teacher salaries.

Those requirements phased out in 2021, but Bartels' bill would extend this basement until 2024.

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Sandra Waltman, lobbyist for the South Dakota Education Association, told the committee the plan was a "simple bill" to ensure school boards comply with the "intended purpose" of the law.

"We're just trying to keep the accountability provision," Waltman said.

But Deubrook Area School District Superintendent Kimberly Kludt objected to the continuation of the plan, arguing that unique circumstances — however rare — complicates compliance for schools.

"One year a teacher may use the insurance," Kludt said. "The next year, she may opt to use her spouse's insurance."

Kludt also argued that young teachers may qualify for their parents' health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, meaning how much a district spends on benefits packages can fluctuate.

However, proponents pointed out school boards are allowed to file for exemptions to the current rules. And in its half-a-decade of existence, a state board overseeing compliance has never fined a school for falling under the 2017 levels.

Ultimately, the committee narrowly passed the legislation on an 8-6 vote, with Chair Rep. Lana Greenfield , R-Doland, casting the deciding vote.

"I think it's worth a conversation," Greenfield said.

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South Dakota has the second-lowest teacher pay in the nation.

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Christopher Vondracek covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at cvondracek@forumcomm.com or follow him on Twitter at @ChrisVondracek.
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