Holiday break is here for Beaufort County students, while the start of another legislative session looms for state lawmakers.
Beaufort County School District’s legislative agenda — a wish list of sorts — details what the district and Beaufort County Board of Education would like their lobbyist, the McNair Law Firm, to push for in Columbia come January. Here’s a few items the district hopes to see passed in the coming year:
Increase and fully fund a $40,000 starting salary for teachers
Statewide, school districts struggle to recruit and retain teachers who leave in droves for higher pay in other states or switch to a different profession.
The district is asking the state to fully fund at least a $40,000 beginning teacher’s salary, a sweeping request that is likely to go largely unanswered by state legislators if history is any indication. Similar lobbying efforts in 2016 and 2017 failed.
However, McNair lobbyists have over the years incrementally increased the percentage of funding the district receives through the Education Finance Act, the largest single funding source for teacher salaries.
This law distributes dollars to districts through a per-pupil cost based on a weighted formula that typically provides less funding to more affluent districts.
Currently, Beaufort County School District receives 16 percent of the state’s $2,425 per-student cost — the lowest share of the state’s 81 districts.
Before the district hired McNair in 2011, it was 0 percent, according to district spokesman Jim Foster.
The state-mandated minimum starting salary for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $30,113.
In Beaufort County, a first-year district teacher makes $35,156 that, along with a $3,000 cost-of-living supplement, comes to roughly $38,000.
In Georgia, a first-year teacher earns $34,092.
In North Carolina, it’s $35,000.
Give school districts local control of their calendars
Current state laws affords school districts little flexibility in creating their academic calendars. Districts are not allowed to start school any earlier than the third Monday in August. That can create complications when hurricanes hit and multiple makeup days are needed — as was the case for Beaufort County schools in the last two years.
But few legitimate options exist to recoup seat time in the first semester when storms are more likely to happen. Tacking makeup days onto the end of the school year doesn’t solve the issue of making up time for the fall semester. Running the semester into January isn’t well-received by students, who may have to take end-of-course final exams after a two-week holiday break.
And district officials say shortening the holiday break is an unattractive option for families.
Beaufort County School District is asking for a bill to return complete control of the calendar to districts or at least allow districts to start school as early as Aug. 15 and be able to adjust that calendar start date by up to five school days.
More funding for maintenance and replacement of buses
While school districts hire bus drivers and design routes, bus maintenance is the state’s responsibility, and hundreds of buses across the state are outdated and failing.
Roughly 38 percent of Beaufort County’s school buses are 20 years or older, according to S.C. Department of Education records provided last spring.
In the 2015-16 school year, five state-owned school buses caught fire in Beaufort County. All five were between 20 and 28 years old. In the 2016-17 school year, there were no bus fires and none have been reported so far this year.
A year ago, S.C. superintendent Molly Spearman called for additional money to replace more than 1,000 old school buses.
In June, Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed $20.5 million for new school buses because he said using lottery money wasn’t the right way to fund it.
District officials are calling again for more money to fund the vehicles that transport “this State’s most valuable commodity.”
Let school districts hire more non-certified staff
Consider this hypothetical: A biologist moves to Beaufort County and feels called to teach, but isn’t certified.
State law allows Beaufort County’s three charter schools to hire the biologist immediately as long as no more than 25 percent of its existing teaching staff lacks certification.
Beaufort County School District, however, cannot. Candidates must pay to receive a Program of Alternative Certification for Educators (PACE).
Given the statewide shortage of college graduates entering teaching, district officials see changing this law to be more in line with charter schools’ hiring abilities as a way to increase the number and variety of teacher applicants.
This is a new addition to the district’s legislative agenda.
Which lawmakers should I call to let them know my opinion?
Tom Davis, District 46: 843-252-8583 or 803-212-6350
Margie Bright Matthews, District 45: 803-212-6108
George “Chip” Campsen, District 43: 843-722-0123 or 803-212-6340
S.C. House of Representatives
Weston Newton, District 120: 843-706-6111 or 803-212-6810
Jeff Bradley, District 123: 843-342-6918 or 803-212-6928
Bill Herbkersman, District 118: 843-255-2264 or 803-734-3063
Shannon Erickson, District 124: 843-255-2260 or 803-734-3261
Michael Rivers, District 121: 803-212-6952
To find out who your state representatives are, click here.