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Bill to end South Dakota teacher collective bargaining pulled by sponsor

Bill aimed to prohibit South Dakota teacher collective bargaining pulled by sponsor
Published: Feb. 2, 2022 at 10:05 AM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Although there may be a sigh of relief that HB 1216 will not affect teachers’ collective bargaining this year, the concern among some educators is that the sentiment is still there.

“We have a lot of support from not just our members, but even some of our non-members have been speaking out against this,” said Tim Eckart, President of the Sioux Falls Education Association.

At the start of the legislative session, The Sioux Falls public school district sent a letter to legislators. It describes HB 1216 as, “An Act to remove collective bargaining for school district employees.” The school district states their support in the letter but also notes that the school board has not approved the support.

Eckart says it is not the contract that is the issue, it’s the 5-year length, specifically at Sioux Falls public schools, that’s the problem. He says many South Dakota schools have one to two-year contracts. He believes a shorter contract allows for more action than reaction.

The Sioux Falls public school district statement says:

“As a large employer in Sioux Falls, it is critically important to have the flexibility to respond to changing conditions as we watch incentives, wages, and benefits increase rapidly in other business sectors.”

The collective bargaining piece of bill HB 1216, may have caused its demise. A new bill is planned to be introduced Wednesday.

“This is not going to take away the overall bargaining process. It just will provide more flexibility to offer higher pay and bonuses in order to retain new teachers and non-teaching staff,” said Republican Representative Bethany Soye of Sioux Falls.

Teachers now have a growing awareness of a potential threat to future collective bargaining.

“It’s only galvanized all of the staff within all of the districts in the state,” said Eckert.

Teachers and staff not only negotiate salary and benefits, but issues to benefit students, such as classroom size, and time for teachers to prepare for classes and grade assignments.

Recently the Sioux Falls public school district offered a raise to custodians if the union would agree to extend their contract without further negotiations till 2026.

In a letter from Sioux Falls public school district to legislators, HB 1216 is noted as a key bill, provides a statement in support, but also noted that the school board has not approved the support:

“House Bill 1216 Introduced by: Representative Soye and Senator Kolbeck Todd Vik 367-7909 An Act to remove collective bargaining for school district employees. This bill removes collective bargaining for all school district employees (similar to the Regents and the Technical Colleges.) Position: The District supports this bill. The District supports this bill. School districts must have the ability to recruit and retain a well-qualified workforce. Specifically, school districts currently must work through existing bargaining units to increase the starting wages and salaries in order to adjust compensation to attract new prospective employees. Districts may be forced to increase salaries across an entire salary schedule in an effort to raise one level of needed increase. It may also be the case that salaries need to be adjusted in order to retain existing employees or incentivize difficult to fill positions such as career and technical education professionals who may easily find higher compensation within business and industry but are crucial to the continuation of programs that feed state and local workforce needs. Higher education had collective bargaining eliminated several years ago and no adverse effects have been noted with recruitment and retention.”

Sioux Falls School District spokesperson Karly Uthe responded to the district’s support of the bill:

“We are experiencing workforce shortages in our community and across the nation that are predicted to grow and become more significant over time. As a large employer in Sioux Falls, it is critically important to have the flexibility to respond to changing conditions as we watch incentives, wages, and benefits increase rapidly in other business sectors. We need the ability to respond when those factors impact our applicant pools and add compensation when it is needed, where it is needed the most.

We are also finding it necessary, at times, to add compensation that goes above and beyond what is already part of scheduled, negotiated increases to stay competitive in the current job market, which changes overnight.

The current language in the existing statute allows districts to give added incentives in the form of signing bonuses, moving expenses, and tuition reimbursement for teachers. We advocate for that language to be modified and widened to include employees in any of the eight employee groups in our district. This allows us to focus on every aspect of staffing that supports our schools in addition to teachers.

Nearly every employer, large and small, is competing for workers. School districts are part of that market. We are continually focused on what it takes to first recruit the best people, and then retain them, and both are becoming more challenging. We’ve added compensation across all eight employee groups over the last year, and we want to keep the best and brightest coming in the door for our children and families.

This is an issue that largely affects school districts everywhere. Covid has not been a friend to education, and while we have been fortunate to keep the doors open in Sioux Falls, it has come with a cost. This is true for many professions and while we continue to try to find our way out of this pandemic, we want to be as proactive as possible knowing the workforce challenges will most likely continue into the foreseeable future.”

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