Tuesday, February 11, 2014

SD Legislators Finally Get It: It Takes Good Money To Get Good People

     The institutionalized complacency--if not outright denial--regarding the teacher pay/hiring/retention situation in South Dakota's public schools doesn't extend to a similar problem in our state's legislature.  On a 7-2 vote yesterday, The Senate State Affairs Committee voted to endorse a bill (SB 142) that would raise lawmakers salaries from $6,000/yr to $10,000/yr.  Frankly, at $10k I think they're still undercompensated, considering how many hours these people have to spend every year, both during the session in Pierre and back home studying up on issues and dealing with constituents.  I support this raise.  I also support the reasons that our elected officials have advanced for getting it:  In the words of Rapid City Senator Craig Tieszen, the bill's author, "by limiting the pay of legislators, we are limiting our competition."
     Echoing that sentiment, Senator Dan Lederman from Dakota Dunes was reported as saying that "keeping the salary at $6,000 will prevent some people from running for office."  Again, I agree wholeheartedly and endorse the raise.  Who would want to limit our competitive requirements with less-than-market-worthy salaries?  And who would want to keep good people from engaging a job that doesn't pay them what the market thinks they're worth?  Not me, not Senator Tieszen, not Senator Lederman, and not the rest of the big majority in the Senate State Affairs Committee.
     I'm with you guys all the way on this.  Only thing is, why does this principle apply when it comes to legislative salaries but apparently stands for nothing in considering the tough economic environment that the legislature won't address regarding teacher salaries in South Dakota?  Paraphrasing Tieszen, I would note that "by limiting the pay of teachers, we are limiting our competition."  On the matter of competition, there's been plenty of documentation about the woeful salary comparisons between South Dakota's teachers and those of our neighboring states.  I provided extensive documentation when I researched and wrote about the issue a couple of months ago.  At about the same time the Rapid City Journal noted in an editorial that it's time for the state to open its eyes on the issue of teacher pay.  It's out there.  It's obvious.  And I think Senator Tieszen's principle about remaining competitive is one that he and the rest of the legislature should apply to the issue.
     Meantime, Senator Lederman's dictum that keeping salaries low will prevent people from entering a field is another principle that screams for application to the teacher salary/shortage problem in South Dakota.  I have no doubt that outstanding young educators beginning their careers in this part of the country are categorically bypassing South Dakota for better opportunities in adjacent states.  Actually, I know firsthand of some excellent young teachers who live in western SD but commute to their jobs in WY schools--sorry, no names or genders available.  This is sad.  Sadder still, if not altogether pathetic, is the South Dakota Legislature's stubborn refusal to even acknowledge that the problem exists.  That our reps see it as an issue with respect to their own jobs but can't extend their legislative sight horizons into the surrounding landscape that harbors our most important asset--our kids--is kind of amazing, actually.
     My hope is that these elected officials will extrapolate something from their own desires for better money as a means of getting better people:  There's a marketplace out there, and the basis of it is competition.  This isn't just hackneyed private sector talk.  These principles apply across the board.  It's all about the future and our collective willingness to acknowledge it and to confront it.  Take your pay raise, reps.  You're worth this kind of money.  Now think about South Dakota's teachers and consider why we can't value them on the same terms.


  1. Right on. The only thing I would add is that all workers in the state need a better pay scale. This low wage low tax mentality to lure jobs into the state just hasn't worked.
    I hear the crackerbarrel in Piedmont last Saturday got a little heated.

  2. Agreed. It hasn't worked. Most frustrating is watching how so many of our young people leave for greener pastures. Saturday's weather got icy up here in the trees, so my plans for attending were canceled.