School districts run afoul of teacher pay rules

NEW UNDERWOOD, S.D. (KEVN) - Thirty-six school districts across the state of South Dakota learned on Thursday that they did not meet one or both requirements for teacher pay.

One district under fire is New Underwood, which broke both requirements.

South Dakota’s 2016 law targeting teacher pay and student-teacher ratio put the district of New Underwood in a tight spot. They could potentially lose half of the additional money they were supposed to receive this year.

George Seiler, New Underwood’s superintendent and principal, knew that this requirement was in place before meeting with the state’s Accountability Board.

"We did know that was going to happen, but our thought process was declining enrollment one of the five categories that the accountability board would allow a school to appeal the process on,” said Selier.

Declining enrollment, Seiler believes, hurt New Underwood’s ability to pay teachers.

Still, some teachers are fine with the district.

“I am happy with the salary I get here at New Underwood school,” said Brandi Brassfield, a New Underwood fifth grade teacher.

Last spring, 258 students were enrolled, making the school’s budget $192,000. But, once fall came around only 246 students enrolled, causing the budget to decline to $124,000.

"The difficult part is the fact that declining enrollment isn't a deciding factor. So, they're projecting out that we have 258 students, while we are actually down to 246 for the year, which for us equates out to about $6,000 a student. So, were looking at about $60,000 between what we projected to spend and what we actually received in funds,” said Seiler.

"With the enrollment dropping it hits everyone a little personal here. When we had to let a couple staff members go it was really hard because they become our friends,” said Brassfield.

New Underwood hopes to have the Accountability Board reconsider their decision.

"My outcome would be that hopefully the Appropriations Committee can actually see that declining enrollment should be a deciding factor because no business is ran from the standpoint of if we spend more money than we receive then we're going to stay in business and that's what the state is asking us to do without taking declining enrollment into affect,” said Seiler.

If the appeal does not go through the school district has to pay $22,000 in compensation to the New Underwood teachers and meet one standard by Feb. 1.

Other school districts that did not meet the requirements in KOTA Territory are Wall and Faith. Final decisions from the Accountability Board will be made Dec. 4.