The average teacher salary with the Sauk Prairie School District is not enough to pay the average monthly cost of renting a single family home in the Sauk Prairie area, and is barely enough to afford the average rent for a two bedroom, two bath apartment in the district.
Sauk Prairie School District Assistant Superintendent Jeff Wright presented those statistics and other economic challenges the Sauk Prairie area is experiencing at the Feb. 25 school board meeting.
Wright was asked to present his findings first at the Feb. 20 2019 Economic Outlook event, where community leaders from the villages of Prairie du Sac and Sauk City, as well as the town of Merrimac and the village of Merrimac offered updates on their respective communities. Wright spoke directly about how challenges in the community impact the school district’s ability to attract and retain employees.
During his board meeting presentation, Wright said the community’s challenge to attract employees – largely due to the lack of workforce housing – ultimately prices out many district staff. Employees who would live in town if they could find affordable housing are living outside the district in nearby communities such as Baraboo and Reedsburg and commute into the Sauk Prairie area for work.
The challenge to offer affordable housing in the Sauk Prairie area has been persistent for a few years now, as limited land availability has driven up the cost for land, and labor shortages have plagued the industry for the past several years. And with housing stock low, rental properties and units are at 100 percent occupancy with waiting lists averaging upwards of five months.
“The average cost of a two-bedroom, two-bath (apartment) is between $1,100 and $1,200 a month,” Wright said. “A single family home is on average $1,400 a month to rent in Sauk Prairie.”
He said the same pressure in the rental market is also driving costs in the housing market as well. Housing prices in the Sauk Prairie School District, Sauk County and South-central Wisconsin MLS listing system, which includes Madison and Dane County have spiked considerably over the past few years.
“The price increases from 2016-2018 have been pretty significant in the Sauk Prairie School District and the percentage increase is outpacing both the county and the region as a whole,” Wright said.
The struggle to make workforce housing available is not only an issue for the school district, but other businesses in town, too, Wright said.
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“The workforce we are talking about is a much larger percentage of the population most people realize,” Wright said. “This is not just a single wage ban.”
A person working as a waitress or waiter makes on average just over $18,500 annually, which means that person’s rent would have to cost no more than $467 in rent each month. A registered nurse making the average salary of $71,720 can afford the cost of the average single family home mortgage in the Sauk Prairie area, translating into about $1,800 per month.
“This obviously affects our community’s ability to attract and retain a workforce because people may want to live in the same area they work,” Wright said. “And who want housing close to where they are going to work every day.”
Starting salary for a full-time certified teacher in the district is $40,241 and the average salary of all district teachers is $50,416.
Percentage of district employees – regardless of title – live in the Sauk Prairie School District boundaries.
“The teacher’s salary group is a higher paid salary group than a lot of our other salary groups,” Wight said. “And if you were to look at the median salary for the whole district, it would be significantly lower than that $51,000, which then puts an average, single-family home out of reach for a pretty large chunk of our workforce.”
The term workforce housing has changed over time.
“It doesn’t mean low-income housing, its housing our educators need as well,” Wright said. “So what do we do now to make sure our community has housing that is affordable by the educator workforce, as part of our larger need for workforce housing.”
Wright said it was important for district administration to be able to share the work they have been doing with regard to employee’s salary and benefits, “and to be able to connect it to this bigger question in the community about how we make sure we are a place that can attract workers,” Wright said. “And that if people want to work here, they can also afford to live here.”