DCSD Forum addresses teacher pay, aging schools
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, email@example.com
The Darlington County School District convened its annual Teacher Forum on Dec. 4 at the Hartsville Country Club, and six top teachers from county schools got the chance to pose tough questions to a panel of South Carolina legislators and education officials.
Panelists this year included: Connell Delaine, Chair of the Darlington County Board of Education; Dr. Eddie Ingram, Darlington County School District Superintendent; Jay Lucas, Speaker of the SC House of Representatives; SC Rep. Robert Williams; SC Rep. Pat Henegan; Dana Yow, Director of Public Engagement and Communication for the SC Education Oversight Committee; and Emily Heatwole, Director of Government Affairs for the SC Department of Education. The panel discussion was moderated by Sabrina Derry, president of the Greater Darlington Chamber of Commerce.
Chenethia Brown of Darlington Middle School cited a study showing that teachers often leave the profession because they are underpaid, under appreciated, and overworked. She asked the panel how education officials and legislators can address the issue of teacher pay.
Rep. Henegan responded that about 92-percent of teachers buy classroom supplies with their own money, and about 60-percent of teachers work a second job to make ends meet.
“That is not fair… education is a profession. We train future leaders. That is our responsibility and we should be paid as professionals,” said Henegan.
Dr. Ingram noted that while teacher pay is not where it needs to be, DCSD does go beyond what many other South Carolina districts pay. Delaine added that while DCSD has been unable to give raises the past few years, they do pay bonuses in an effort to keep teachers in the classroom.
Yow added that low pay is a key problem in teacher retention, citing the high number of teachers who quit within the first five years due to financial issues.
“The retention rate is about 40 to 50 percent of teachers… and they’re not going to other schools, they are taking other jobs,” said Yow.
Lucas noted that low teacher pay, combined with underperforming school districts, is causing a serious drain of math and science teachers who can find much higher pay and less stress outside of the education profession.
Michelle Baltz of St. John’s Elementary School asked whether any of the state’s projected $1.3 billion budget surplus will be used to shore up aging school buildings and bus fleets.
Williams cautioned that this figure is merely a projection, and the actual number could be more or less when the budget numbers are finalized. Henegan noted that the SC school bus fleet is the oldest in the country, with many buses dating back to 1980, and bringing the fleet up to current safety standards (with no bus older than 16 years) could take $34 million.
“We have had some tremendous challenges this year in South Carolina,” said Lucas, explaining that flood damages could exceed $150 million, our state road system is “an embarrassment” and the lack of a state road repair bill means road maintenance is still paid from the general fund, leaving less for education.
“Right now, it takes $400 million extra dollars a year just to keep our roads in the horrible shape that they’re in now,” said Lucas. “We would like to fund base student cost at a higher level, and right now that would cost $600 million… it would take $188 million to bring that per student cost up to $150 per pupil.”
Lucas said he wished he could promise that a large amount of any surplus would go toward schools, and he said that he and the other representatives would do their best to ensure that schools are not overlooked.
Paulette Lunn of Mayo High School for Math, Science, and Technology asked about new teacher evaluation standards, how teacher performance will be measured, and what allowances will be made for teachers who instruct at multiple schools or work with exceptional education students. Dr. Ingram replied that evaluations are trending away from individual teacher behaviors and focusing more on student outcomes and student growth.
“I don’t think (looking at) anything other than growth is wise, particularly when high-stakes testing has come into national question now, even by the Obama administration,” said Dr. Ingram, adding that for teachers who teach classes exempt from standardized testing, goals-based evaluations would be used.
Lindsey Cote of Darlington High School asked whether South Carolina has adopted a new standardized testing system and would that testing system match existing state standards.
Dr. Ingram said the testing contract was awarded the previous week to DRC (Data Recognition Corporation), and Heatwole added that these tests will be aligned with existing standards.
Tajuana James of West Hartsville Elementary School asked whether the DCSD intends to formulate a policy to curb social media misbehavior among students – specifically those who post embarrassing videos of classmates or teachers online.
Dr. Ingram replied that enforcing such policies is a complicated matter, as you are dealing with freedom of speech issues and the district has been challenged when they have attempted to discipline students over social media use. Henegan added that most schools have some sort of policy regarding electronic devices and Internet usage, and those policies will continue to evolve over time. She expressed a hope that any enforcement policy will not “go to the extreme” and rob students of their rights.
Finally, Jamie Horton of Hartsville High School asked the panel what they believe is the number one issue facing education in South Carolina.
Williams replied that a heightened emphasis on mental health and emotional support could have a big impact on student safety.
Lucas said that we need to raise education standards in rural school districts and work to provide 21st century educations for our students so they can succeed in tomorrow’s job market. To that end, Lucas said a report from the state’s education task force is due out soon and he hopes districts can begin implementing some of their recommendations in 2016.
Heatwole said the state needs to support local school districts in their efforts to propel South Carolina forward, and this could include restoring funding for career specialists who guide students into trades, colleges, and onto career paths.
Also at this meeting, former DCSD superintendent Jimmy Newsome presented the annual Jimmy Newsome Signature Award to Duke Energy for their volunteer work and support at Darlington County schools. On hand to accept the award were Duke Energy’s Mindy Taylor and Teresa Hodges.