Officials offer thoughts on teacher pay, shortage during forum

By Melissa Rollins, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

During the recent Education Forum hosted by the Darlington County School District, district and state leaders gave their perspectives on issues relating to education on the local and state level.

Our first story on the forum focused on the Abbeville Lawsuit and the reaction of Jay Lucas, Speaker of the SC House of Representatives, to the recent case dismissal.

This story focuses on another issue, the teacher shortage and the related issue of teacher pay.

DCSD Board of Education Chairman Jamie Morphis said that though Darlington County is not suffering as much as other districts, recruitment and retention have still been a burden.

“Pre-recession, we had incentives and signing bonuses and retention bonuses implemented and we feel that it was successful; we didn’t have any shortages,” Morphis said. “Now, Darlington County still is very fortunate relative to the rest of the state. Post-recession, we have again implemented on a limited basis incentives, signing bonuses and retention. I say limited, but it is probably around ten classes now in critical areas.”

Morphis said that the administration and board members have recognized that they will have to find something to make Darlington stand out from all of the other districts searching to fill vacancies.

“The board is working with finance to try and implement back into the funds those incentives as well as bonuses for sign-on and retention as well,” Morphis said. “We’ve talked about housing concessions but in rural communities it is often difficult for folks to find places to stay. What can the district do to try to promote housing to make it more affordable for teachers to live in this area?”

While encouraging more home-grown teachers is helpful, Morphis said that something more immediate will need to be done.
“If we were to find students to go into the education field in college today, enough to fill all the vacancies, it would be years before they are able to get into the workforce; we have to have something more immediate,” Morphis said. “One thing that we’ve been talking about for a while is how to use technology. We are very advanced in technology; we are very fortunate here in Darlington. We have been very proactive in technology, how do we use that?”

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said that several taskforces have been created to find out what is keeping college students from entering the education field and running others away after just a few years.

“The Legislature asked me to chair a taskforce over the last few months looking at teacher recruitment and retention in South Carolina,” Spearman said. “We’ve heard from hundreds of teachers. We brought in different focus groups who spoke before the taskforce and we are finishing up that report right now; it will be going to the Legislature before January 1.”
Spearman said that what she’s heard over and over again is that teachers are not receiving enough support while more is being expected of them each year.

“We heard from teachers and, honestly, the first thing they talk about is that they need more support,” Spearman said. “They feel overwhelmed. There are a range of things that we are already doing like making sure that our accountability model has less testing (and) that they are meaningful tests.”

Spearman said that having a support system in a school district, from top down, could help combat some of the teacher exodus.

“What we have learned is that teachers will stay if they have a good boss,” Spearman said. “If they have a good principal, a good superintendent, they’ll stay in place. So, bringing more focus on leadership and the importance on good leadership in a school and in a district to support teachers is part of retention but salary always comes up too. We do need to improve our salary for teachers in South Carolina, in particularly at that beginning level.”

Since she took office, Spearman said, she has been working with state leaders to find ways to pay teachers more.

“ Last year, we asked the Legislature to give us some more funding so that we could increase the starting pay to be over $30,000…They did that,” Spearman said. “That is a step in the right direction…There are a lot of needs. These gentlemen and ladies have a lot of decisions that they have to make and we want to work with them but we have got to address and move our teacher salary schedule up so that we can compete, particularly among the borderstates.”

Senator Gerald Malloy agreed with Spearman that pay increases are imperative, also addressing the issue of retired teachers filling some of the classroom vacancies.

“We’ve got to pay the teachers,” Malloy said. “That is important. I know that we say that’s not everything but it is important. One other issue I have is assistance with debt; teacher loans programs are something that you’ve got to end up having. And lastly, (there has to be) some additional flexibility for earning limitations for those that are retired.”

Author: Duane Childers

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