Correction: This story was corrected May 3 to remove incorrect information on the cost-of-living supplement as it applies to superintendent Jeff Moss.
The county’s largest employer may soon see a pay raise to offset the rising cost of living in the Lowcountry.
All of Beaufort County School District’s roughly 2,800 employees, including superintendent Jeff Moss, stand to see a 2 percent raise in next year's salaries, though how the raises affect the property tax millage rate remains to be seen.
At a school board work session last week, district chief financial officer Tonya Crosby presented a $239 million operating budget for next year’s public school system that includes a 1 percent cost-of-living raise, an additional $1,000 to add to certified staff’s $3,000 cost-of-living stipend, an additional $500 to add to all other district staff’s $1,000 cost-of-living stipend and a full funding of annual “step” increases for all district employees — all without raising the property tax millage rate.
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Board member Mary Cordray took it one step further, motioning for a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for all district employees.
Board member Joseph Dunkle seconded the motion, saying “1 percent is kind of an insult” when the cost of living in Beaufort County has climbed in recent years.
“In effect they seem to make less and less every year,” he said.
From 2011 to 2016, average rental rates for all types of housing rose by about 49 percent on Hilton Head, 31 percent in Bluffton and more than 12 percent across northern Beaufort County, according to reporting by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette last month.
The proposed raise tacks on an additional $1.6 million to the operating budget, pushing the total to $240.5 million, Crosby announced at Tuesday night's board meeting.
The proposed raises will be calculated based on an employee’s salary for next school year. For example, a teacher earning $40,000 a year would receive an $800 cost-of-living raise, a $4,000 cost-of-living supplement as well as a “step” increase the district outlines in its salary schedule.
Certified employees last received a cost-of-living raise in the 2016-17 school year. Classified and administrative staff have waited even longer, since the 2012-13 school year, according to district documents.
A 2 percent cost-of-living raise equates to a generous salary bump for high-level administrative staff. For example, superintendent Jeff Moss’ $220,000 base salary would be bumped $4,400 by the 2 percent raise. Moss voluntarily chooses to decline the locality supplement offered to all full-time district employees.
Cordray’s motion passed 7-1, with board member David Striebinger voting against and board members Christina Gwozdz and JoAnn Orischak abstaining. Board member Cynthia Gregory-Smalls was not present for the vote.
In explaining his reason to oppose the raise, Striebinger said, “I’m all for giving raises to be competitive, but what would we cut out of our budget without giving a millage increase? I’m hesitant to make a quick decision when I haven’t seen the numbers worked out.”
He also cited a concern for the impact that the raises will have on employees’ benefits, which have skyrocketed in recent years.
Gwozdz also said there were some “unknowns” associated with the proposal and said it would be irresponsible to ask county taxpayers for the additional money because the state won’t fund it.
Orischak said she would likely would support the measure, but sought more information in how such an across-the-board salary increase could be applied without a millage increase.
Crosby said Tuesday that current projections show an additional 1.32 millage increase to fund the raises and maintain the district's level of cash reserves. However, she cautioned that with the state legislature’s budget and Beaufort County property tax reassessments still in play, the millage rate as presented Tuesday was preliminary.
"There are a lot of moving parts," she said.
Other salary-related issues board members indicated they’d like to tackle, but have so far taken no action on:
- The district’s “step” salary schedule stops when employees reach their 24th year of employment with the district, meaning the most experienced employees don’t receive annual raises if they remain in their current position.
- The salary schedule puts first and second year teachers at the same $35,516 salary. Gwozdz asked the district staff to present a budget that would offer some incentive to a teacher starting his or her second year.
- Young teachers beginning their careers sometimes do not have savings built up when they move to Beaufort County. To offset the number of deposits associated with establishing a residence, Dunkle floated the idea of supplying half of the cost-of-living stipend to first-year teachers in August as opposed to December when other district employees receive their stipend.
The budget proposal is strictly for school operations, not for new facilities and renovations. The board plans to certify the budget by mid-May. Beaufort County Council has to approve the district’s budget by the end of June.
Want to weigh in on the school district’s budget?
District staff and board members will host two public forums for members of the public to learn more about what’s in next year’s budget and ask questions or make suggestions.
- Bluffton High School media center at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 3
- Battery Creek High School media center at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 8.