Sanborn Central granted a waiver for failing to increase teacher pay

By Shannon Marvel

PIERRE — The South Dakota School Finance Accountability Board granted a waiver to the Sanborn Central School District, which failed to comply with provisions for increasing teacher compensation, per state law.

With a 3-2 vote, the board granted a waiver which waives the $10,000 fine for the district’s noncompliance.

The board took action on the waiver after hearing testimony from the Sanborn Central Superintendent Justin Siemsen and Business Manager Gayle Bechen.

According to a report, Sanborn Central School District’s average teacher compensation in 2017 was $50,961 and in 2019 was $50,733.

The $228 decrease in compensation was due to a clerical error, Siemsen said.

“The miscalculation was not the intention of withholding money from any of our staff, it was a clerical error. It was just an error on our part, just a calculation error.

“In order to reflect that, instead of just saying that to you our school board has made the proactive decision to add $300 to all our teacher contracts retroactive to meet the accountability that it should have been,” Siemsen said, clarifying that the $300 would be an ongoing addition rather than a one-time payment.

Staff of the Sanborn Central School District, based in Forestburg about 25 miles north of Mitchell, also received a 2.3 percent raise in salaries.

The clerical error that resulted in the decreased compensation was due to including a speech teacher and preschool teacher into the calculations, Siemsen said.

He added that since 2017, three of the highest paid staff members in the district retired so the savings from those salaries were redistributed to remaining staff salaries.

The board determined that a violation did occur, but a motion to deny the waiver failed, with only Liza Clark, state commissioner of finance and management, and Susan Proefrock, business manager for the Belle Fourche School District, voting to deny the waiver.

Both Clark and Proefrock said Sanborn Central had multiple opportunities to understand how to accurately calculate the accountability report and teacher compensation through training opportunities.

Board chairman and Huron School District Superintendent Terry Nebelsick, along with Mobridge-Pollock School District board member Eric Stroeder and Jarod Larson, Brandon Valley School District superintendent, voted in favor of granting a waiver, citing that Sanborn Central took a proactive approach at rectifying their mistakes by adding the $300 to staff salaries once the mistake was realized.

“This was an extremely difficult vote for me. The accountability board was put in place so that legislators had the confidence to stay on track with the blue ribbon task force. We are an oversight that school districts come along so we can give assurance to the legislators that teachers are receiving the pay,” Nebelsick said.

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