South Dakota losing salary competition

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota is losing many of its school superintendents to Minnesota because the state can’t compete with the higher salaries offered there, educators say.
“It’s tough for a South Dakota superintendent being paid less than $40,000 to pass up a $60,000 job offer 100 miles away,” said Vince Schaefer, who was Viborg’s superintendent for three years before taking a similar job at Madelia, Minn., a larger district.
“I’m not overly proud of the fact that I left my home state,” said Schaefer, a rural Colton native. “I left my roots, my family and a lot of good associates.”
But, at age 50, Schaefer said he wanted to make sure he could save enough money in the coming years to prepare for retirement.
Schaefer is not alone.
While no organization tracks the number of administrators who leave the state, at least 12 from schools within 50 miles of Sioux Falls have made the move in the last two years. One person went to Wyoming and the rest to Minnesota.
“I can honestly say there appears to be more superintendents and principals that leave the state each year,” said Christie Johnson, executive director and lobbyist for the School Administrators Association.
“The trend I’m seeing is younger and younger administrators moving to other states, going at the beginning or middle of their careers,” she said. “I think that’s a trend that’s cause for some alarm. We don’t want a migration of our youngest and brightest administrators.”
Hank Kosters of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota said money was a driving force.
One superintendent left his $40,000-a-year job in South Dakota for a $31,000 pay raise at a Minnesota school, said Kosters.
While large districts such as Sioux Falls can afford to pay an administrator up to $100,000, that’s not the case for most schools, he said. The majority of South Dakota districts pay their superintendents $40,000 to $60,000, he said.
In addition, many districts require superintendents to take on extra duties such as teaching a class or coaching because they cannot afford staff additions, said Kosters.
“So many are wearing different hats within the district,” he said. “They get so spread out that I don’t believe many feel they can do an appropriate job.”
A dwindling pool of school administrator candidates is a concern nationwide, said Phil Vik, head of education administration at the University of South Dakota.
With an aging superintendent population, many states are likely to face a candidate shortage to fill vacancies created by retirements, he said.
Although South Dakota has enough potential candidates, many aren’t willing to take jobs at salaries they consider low, especially in isolated regions, he said.
“School districts say they aren’t getting applicants. There are plenty in the pipeline, but they aren’t willing to work for $40,000,” said Vik. “If small districts want to keep their schools, they’ll have to pay more.”
Parker Superintendent Jim Holbeck said he worries that as other states raise administrative salaries faster than South Dakota does, the migration will increase.
“Hopefully, South Dakotans will realize they’re losing good, quality people,” Holbeck said.