After studying teacher pay for months, a Charleston County School District task force has recommended the district increase starting teacher pay by about $15,000.
Task force urges $15K teacher pay increase
Calls for $58K starting salary, with trustees saying that’s still low

The task force looking at pay for Charleston County teachers has recommended increasing starting salaries by nearly $15,000 — a significant jump, but one both the working group and school board members say only scratches the surface of what’s needed.

Currently, the district pays firstyear teachers with a bachelor’s degree $43,146, which is above the statewide minimum of $40,000.

The pay scale increases with additional years of experience or for teachers with advanced degrees.

The task force proposes a starting salary of $58,000, which it presented along with other recommendations at the board’s March 13 meeting.

That is the “bare minimum” of what the district should aim to pay, said District 2 board member Ed Kelley. “I would personally say $58,000 is insultingly low,” he said.

As of now, there’s no plan for how to implement the recommended increase, let alone one that goes beyond. The district considered a $4,000 increase last year but couldn’t find the money to afford that, opting for $2,000 instead.

“I hate that we’re in the situation we’re in,” said Courtney Waters, who represents District 4.

The task force presentation was the culmination of a compensation review that began in August. Chief Human Resources Officer Bill Briggman created the group, which is made up of two dozen former and current educators and other district staff. The group was charged with studying the pay issue after the Charleston County School District found itself with record vacancies.

In his two decades recruiting teachers to work in Charleston County, Briggman said it’s never been more difficult to attract good candidates.

“I’ve never seen the landscape like I see now,” Briggman told the school board.

Teacher recruitment and retention issues are not unique to Charleston County or the Lowcountry. All told, there were 1,474 vacant positions across South Carolina when the school year started, according to the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement.

It was a nearly 40 percent jump from a year earlier and the most vacancies recorded since CERRA began tracking the trend in 2001.

While the struggle to get and keep teachers isn’t unique, Charleston County’s high costs of living makes the issue of low pay particularly acute. Housing costs here have skyrocketed more than anywhere else in the state, putting the costs of renting — let alone homeownership — beyond the means of many teachers.

Most new and veteran teachers are considered “costburdened,” meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their gross pay on housing.

It would take a starting pay of $77,880 to relieve that pressure for new teachers, the task force said. It would take an annual salary of $128,360 to buy the average Charleston County home, it said.

The task force told the board that even if a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree lived with a roommate, their base expenses for housing, utilities, groceries and a car add up to $155 more per month than they earn.

A more veteran teacher with a master’s degree could technically cover the costs of a onebedroom apartment (they’d have $118 left over after those base expenses), but they would need to make $1,164 more to be able to afford the average cost of a home mortgage in the Charleston area.

In all of the teacher budget scenarios, there’s little to nothing left for any kind of discretionary or emergency expenses, the group said.

The task force presentation brought many teachers to the meeting. They pleaded with the board for higher pay. Several described living paycheck to paycheck. One said she lives with her mom to make ends meet.

Others told how they have abandoned dreams of owning a home or having children.

Any unexpected expense can derail them — one teacher said it took him two years to pay off medical bills after he had appendicitis.

“This is not about paying teachers what they deserve,” said Jody Stallings, a veteran teacher with 31 years of experience who served on the task force. “This is about paying teachers what they need to survive.”

In addition to increasing starting pay and bumping subsequent steps on the teacher pay scale in accordance with that, the task force recommended expanding the pay scale itself.

It currently tops out at 30 years of experience, even though there are about 300 teachers in the district with more years in the classroom, Briggman said.

The group recommended immediately adding five years to the scale to give a pay boost to those experienced teachers. They also recommend the district expand the number of steps to 40 next year.

Board members asked Superintendent Don Kennedy to come to their next meeting with an estimate of costs if the board was to adopt the immediate recommendation to expand the pay scale.

As for the other recommendations, the board said it needs more information first.

The pay discussion is likely to dominate conversations over the next few months as the board develops the district’s 2023-24 budget.

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