By Bill Briggman, Chief Human Resource Officer, Charleston County School District
For years there have been conversations about teacher compensation and questions as to whether the salary structure for teachers is competitive. While these conversations and the debate over the funding of school districts have been taking place, our teacher force has been significantly decreasing. Those losses have been seen especially in subject areas such as math and science, which have consistently been difficult to fill. Readers may remember a Post and Courier article this past spring in which Paul Bowers describes me chasing a math candidate at a state recruitment event. What Mr. Bowers did not include was the fact that I was also trying to outrun the other recruiters who were chasing the same candidate.
While candidates for hard-to-fill positions have always received much attention from recruitment teams, the fact of the matter is that candidates in general are decreasing in number because fewer young professionals are pursuing careers in education. Statistics since 2010 indicate a 24.3% decline in teacher preparation program enrollment in South Carolina and a 20.9% decline in the Southeast. That percentage equates to approximately 14,000 fewer candidates enrolled in teacher preparation programs in the southeastern region of the United States.
Simultaneously, our experienced teachers are reaching retirement eligibility, either by age or by having contributed to the SC State Retirement System for at least twenty-eight years. Bear in mind that many of these teachers entered the profession immediately after college graduation and are in their early fifties when they reach eligibility. The state TERI program’s recent expiration sets an earning cap of $10,000 for retirees who return to the classroom after completing their TERI obligation. This earnings cap is not exclusive to the teachers who exited TERI, but also to teachers who retired starting January 2, 2013. Consequently, experienced teachers who may be interested in remaining in the profession have no incentive to do so.
While this creates the perfect storm for all South Carolina school districts in regards to teacher recruitment and retention, this is not just a school district issue. Ultimately, it is a business and community issue as it relates to preparing students for college and the workforce.
For 2018-2019 school year, the state of South Carolina approved a 1% cost of living increase for teachers. Charleston County School District went further and approved, on average, a 4% cost of living increase that included the state mandated 1% plus an additional 3%. The efforts taken by our Superintendent, Dr. Gerrita Postlewait, and our Board of Trustees to address the teacher shortage issue by focusing on teacher compensation have paid off – we filled our vacancies.
To put such an accomplishment for a district the size of CCSD in perspective, I offer these details:
• We have 3,400 teachers on staff.
• Our average turnover rate for teachers is 14%.
• We posted 740 teaching positions for 2019.
• We hired 519 brand new teachers to CCSD and transferred 222 within CCSD.
• We started the school year with only two vacancies.
I have overseen teacher recruitment for many years, and this was one of our most successful hiring seasons, especially given the teacher shortage.
Dr. Postlewait and the Board made a commitment to increase teacher salaries beyond what the state of South Carolina mandates by implementing a three-year phase-in plan. Our goal is to be the highest paying district in the state by the fall of 2020. This will make us not only competitive in South Carolina, but also in the Southeast.
This commitment is already impacting teachers across CCSD in a positive way. For instance, a first-year teacher earned $36,072 last year. A first-year teacher’s salary is now $38,500 for the current 2019 school year, and our goal is to increase the starting salary to $40,000 by the fall of 2020.
Last year, a teacher with a master’s degree and 15 years of experience earned $54,507. For school year 2019, this same teacher, now with 16 years of experience, will earn $57,882. For school year 2020, this teacher, having achieved 17 years of experience, will earn $61,243. By 2021, the final year of the phase-in plan, this same teacher, with 18 years of experience, is projected to earn $64,730. In other words, the teacher would see a salary increase of $10,000 from 2018 to 2021.
Dr. Postlewait and the Board have also taken action in response to the shortage of math teachers. While the number of math teachers exiting colleges and universities has steadily dwindled, the need for math teachers in our community has increased. To meet the challenges of supply and demand, the Board approved a math teacher salary schedule for our high-poverty middle and high schools as an early budget decision this past March. According to this special salary schedule, all new math teachers at a high poverty school will have a starting salary of $45,000. The teacher with a master’s degree and 15 years of experience who earned $54,507 during the 2018 school year will now, with 16 years of experience, earn $70,270 teaching math at a high poverty school. This new plan has allowed us to fill our math positions not just with new graduates, but with experienced math teachers as well.
Teacher compensation remains a topic of debate at the national, state and local levels. The reality, however, is that low compensation for careers requiring advanced degrees and continued training to maintain licensure negatively impacts the profession in general and our children in specific. I am convinced more than ever that a competitive salary structure will help not only our immediate recruitment needs but also, even more importantly, our retention of teachers. Our high school and college students will find teaching a more appealing career path if they know it will provide them with a livable salary.
Let’s face it: The cost of living in Charleston is high. Our teachers are entrusted with caring for and educating our greatest asset – our children – and they need to be compensated at a level that allows them to live comfortably in the communities they serve.