We agree with Bill Evans, chairman of the Beaufort County School District's board. Teachers are doing some of the most important work that exists in the county.
And if we're serious about attracting -- and maintaining -- a highly competent teaching force, we as a community must be willing to pay for it.
Unfortunately, that's not currently the case. By the end of the school year, about 150 teachers, or one in every 10, will walk away from a job in the school district. The 12 percent teacher turnover rate is among the highest in the state.
For many, it's not that they don't love teaching. Or that they don't love Beaufort County.
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It's that they can't afford to stay.
Data from the S.C. Department of Commerce reveals that this is the most expensive area in the state in which to live. And salaries -- particularly those for teachers in the first few years of their career -- are just too low to pay for housing, food and other necessities.
The result: Many teachers move to areas where they can afford to live. Hundreds work second and third jobs as restaurant servers, bartenders, tutors and salespeople.
The inevitable result is bleary-eyed, overworked teachers who can't give 100 percent in the classroom. These exhausted teachers don't like it. And neither do we.
It's time for the school district to pay teachers more. Superintendent Jeff Moss and the school board have come up with a plan to pay all staff members an extra $1,000 next fiscal year to offset the county's high cost of living. The following year, each will receive $2,000. In five years, when the supplemental pay plan is fully implemented, each staff member will receive $5,000 more annually.
Teachers interviewed for today's front-page story are ecstatic about the plan. Some say it's the only way that they can afford to make teaching in Beaufort County a career.
We urge Beaufort County Council to approve the district's budget so that each educator will receive an extra $1,000. But long term, the supplemental-pay plan may need tweaking. Items the school district and county should consider going forward:
- Whether all district staff members should receive the supplement. Taxpayers are likely to support a pay bump for teachers. But it will be, and should be, a harder sell to give it to all employees.
That said, we think the school district is onto a great idea that could improve the quality of our schools, the caliber of students we graduate and the competency of our workforce. Now is the time to pay teachers salaries that eliminate the need for second jobs and amplify their ability to shine in the classroom.