RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA TV) - Rapid City teachers will have new contracts before the school year begins for the first time in more than three years.
"This process was actually much better than it has been in years past," said Sean Bradley, a member of the negotiation team for the Rapid City Education Association.
Part of the solution was federal mediation, however it was a large number of teachers retiring that played a big part in freeing up extra money. The district says more than 60 teachers opted to retire.
For negotiators, the biggest concern this year was to get more experienced teachers a boost. Teachers are lumped into steps on the salary schedule, roughly based on years of experience. Anyone past step six received a two percent raise.
"For several years the teachers at the top had been kind of left out of the pay increases and so we felt it was important to do something for everybody across the board and make it as equitable as possible," Bradley said.
Meanwhile, teachers between steps two and six received a $1,300 raise and step one teachers got $300. Salaries were frozen for new teachers - those at step zero.
Despite the raise, cost of living is still out pacing the new wages. Each year, the governor recommends an adjustment to state employee wages based on an increase in the cost of living. This year, Governor Kristi Noem recommended a 2.5 percent increase.
Teacher salaries are primarily funded through local property taxes, however part of the problem in keeping pace with the cost of living is the state funding formula.
"This is, and kind of always has been, a funding issue from the state," Bradley said. "Three years ago the state put together a new funding formula and then for two years the funding formula wasn't honored. When there are varying levels of money that come in from the state then it's hard for the school district to guarantee raises every year."
Another issue wearing on the silver lining of a successful contract negotiation, are increases to the costs of health care. There's a 4.2 percent boom in insurance costs, but the school district is picking up a majority of the bill.
"The district is picking up 2.9 percent of that and teachers are picking up the other 1.3 percent," Bradley said.
According to the National Education Association (NEA), South Dakota lags behind the rest of the nation in teacher salary - ranking 46th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia. However, the Rapid City Area School District (RCAS) does significantly better than the state average.
In the 2016-2017 school year, the RCAS average teacher salary was $51,335. That's more than $2,500 greater than the state average generated by the NEA for the 2018-2019 school year.
If you put Rapid City up against the other states, it would rank 36th.