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Administrators: A fourth of SD superintendents will be new this school year; challenges cited

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PIERRE, South Dakota — Nearly a quarter of the superintendents in South Dakota's 151 school districts will be new to their positions this school year, in part because of retirements, education experts say.

Usually, superintendents move laterally among districts, but this year many of the positions will be filled by former principals and teachers with less administrative experience, according to Rob Munson, executive director of the School Administrators of South Dakota, a lobbyist group.

"That's great for them and that opportunity," Munson said. "But that's very little experience."

The turnover is being spurred by baby boomers retiring and some educators choosing to leave South Dakota, he said. But Luanne Warren, the Clark School District's new superintendent, offered up other reasons: tight education funding and a teacher shortage.

"It's going to be harder and harder to get people to stay with this profession," Warren said.

South Dakota ranks last in the nation for teacher pay with an average of $39,018 compared with a national average of $56,103, according to the National Education Association. State lawmakers gave school districts an extra $2.2 million in the 2014-15 budget designated for a raise of about $230 a year for teachers. This works out to an annual raise of less than 1 percent based on the average South Dakota teacher salary.

Superintendent positions are turning over across the country, with the position requiring people to make increasingly tough decisions, such as cutting programs and personnel to accommodate shrinking budgets, says Dan Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association, a national advocacy group for education professionals.

"The economic recession has made it a very difficult position," Domenech said. His association has surveyed members and found that the average age of superintendents is 52 and many plan to retire in a few years.

Warren is moving from the classroom to the top of the district, though she also served as the dean of students at the middle school. She joined the district in 1983 and said her familiarity with the school and the community is a boon.

"I felt that helped me with the transition," Warren said. "It's going to be a challenging experience for me."

Munson said his organization is helping to support these new superintendents, including an upcoming conference that'll feature a workshop for those new to their post.

"There's going to be a huge learning curve for those folks," Munsen said. "We're going to see more and more vacancies and challenges to fill those roles."

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