Other school districts including RCAS struggle to find teachers

The late evening news on KEVN Black Hills Fox Sunday
Published: Aug. 19, 2022 at 11:29 AM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - The tradition of giving an apple to the teacher might not happen in some classrooms around South Dakota given the statewide teacher shortage.

The issue South Dakota is being plagued by has been more than just a statewide problem. The difficulty of finding teachers has been an ongoing predicament across the nation since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year the state has felt the effects of this shortage more than previous years.

According to the Associated School Boards of South Dakota the entire state has 202 teacher positions open, this is up 116 positions compared to last year, with some of the bigger districts like Sioux Falls and Rapid City having a harder time finding teachers. Nicole Swigart, the assistant superintendent for the Rapid City Area Schools, says the RCAS is currently looking at an increased number of teacher openings from last year with a bulk being elementary school level educators.

“Elementary coverage, we have 10 or 15 positions that ideally we would like filled. We’ve had to make adjustments and take teachers that are doing jobs further away from students, move them into classrooms. At the middle school level we have more than 10 positions posted and at the high school level we also have more than 10 positions posted,” Swigart said. “Areas that we are especially desperate in are college and career technical education classes. We are also struggling to find family and consumer science teachers.”

Smaller districts that don’t usually find it difficult filling positions during the summer are starting to see an decline in applications as well.

“You might have a teaching position open and you know, five years ago you maybe would’ve had a dozen or 15 applicants for that position you maybe get three now,” confessed Erik Person the superintendent for the Lead-Deadwood School District

Not only is there a high demand for teachers in the state, paraprofessional positions are also tough to fill. Districts like the RCAS are noticing more empty positions and not enough applicants. This year they’re seeing close to 60 openings for paraprofessionals alone. The role which they play in school is important as they are in charge of multiple different jobs at the schools.

“Paraprofessionals are essential with our work with students many of them work in the special education programs and they support students on IEPs that need additional help in classrooms. We also have paraprofessionals that do ISS and things that buildings need, those are essential positions and we are struggling to fill those,” Swigart explained. “Without paraprofessionals, schools can’t run without them, so we are trying to make adjustments and shifts; but significant impact will be felt if we don’t fill those positions,”

A factor that is detouring individuals from applying for these jobs is the average cost of living in the Black Hills. The average rent cost in the area comes in at more than $900, according to Rent.com. The wages that paraprofessionals receive is not cutting it. The hourly pay for the paraprofessional position is only $13.36 to $17.16 an hour and according to livingwage.mit.edu, the living wage that an individual must earn to support his or herself with out having children is $14.85.

“I can think about two or three instances this school year already that within 24 hours they report back to us and say, ‘You know, I’ve started looking for housing and it’s just... I just can’t make it work,’” recalled Person.

The school year for RCAS starts Aug. 30. As of Aug. 18, the district still has to fill 30 teacher positions and 61 paraprofessional positions, according to the RCAS job opening portal. There might be a rough start to the year statewide.

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