By Mike McCombs
In a time when public school teachers are under siege from seemingly all directions, Beaufort County made a statement this week. If it was to continue to put its children first, it was going to have to make a commitment to its teachers.
On Monday night, Beaufort County Council approved the Beaufort County School District’s (BCSD) submitted budget proposal for the 2022-2023 school year, and as a result, the county’s teachers will now become some of the best compensated in the entire state.
“Every day we are competing with districts across the country to recruit and retain educators. This proves especially difficult given the high cost of living in Beaufort
County, but these compensation increases are moving the district in the right direction,” Beaufort County School District Superintendent Frank Rodriguez said. “By placing compensation at the forefront of this budget cycle, striving for the No. 1 spot in the state, we are not only positively impacting our recruiting efforts, but are building a healthy and sustainable future. By focusing on our staff, we are focusing on our students.”
Prior to this budget, the starting salary for a BCSD teacher was $37, 928. Now it moves to $45,566.
Coupled with additional supplements, the total compensation package for starting teachers is now $50,066, making BCSD one of the top-paying districts in South Carolina.
The Board of Education had previously approved a retroactive FY 2022 3% increase that moved BCSD to 40th of 77 school districts in the State for starting teacher salaries. Now that the 2022-2023 proposed budget has passed, BCSD will likely move into the top 5, possibly as high as No. 1.
The Board of Education (BOE) unanimously approved the budget before submitting to County Council.
A $4,000 starting teacher salary increase will be applied to all teachers’ base pay. In addition to the $4,000 salary increase, $2,500 of the $5,000 locality supplement will be moved into all teachers’ base pay which means it will not need to be voted on by the BOE annually. The remaining $2,500 will continue to be a locality supplement that will be paid in two installments of $1,250 in December and $1,250 in May.
All returning teachers will receive a step increase. And, an additional step has been added to the teacher salary schedule, moving the max step from 25 to 26.
“I feel great about it,” Beaufort High School mathematics teacher Karen Erwin said. “In a time when the past few years for teachers, particularly with COVID, have been hard, this is a great step for Beaufort County. I’m thrilled.”
Erwin said this is the first time in some time that the teachers in Beaufort County have been this heavily involved in budget negotiations.
“Really, this is the first time that teachers have bought in,” Erwin said. “… We went to board meetings and budget meetings, we were vocal on Facebook, and we urged people too get involved. (The teachers and district employees’) efforts should be hugely applauded.”
According to a release from the School District, existing local and state dollars will be utilized to fund half of the teacher salary increase, approximately $2,000 per teacher. A tax increase of (4) mills was approved to achieve the additional $2,000 per teacher to fully fund the $4,000 teacher salary increase.
“The compensation increases in this budget are putting us ahead of the curve and positioning us well for any unpredictable future circumstances,” Chief Financial Officer Tonya Crosby, said in the release.
Erwin was complimentary of Crosby’s work during the push to get the budget approved.
“I think Tonya Crosby did an amazing job,” Erwin said. “She was very open, very transparent. And she has a vision for the future. We might be No. 1 today, but what happens tomorrow?
“She went through a two- to three-year scenario with us. I feel like she has the vision to keep us where we are.”
Erwin also praised Rodriguez for doing “as good a job as anyone could bringing the (school board) and County Council together.
Erwin, who will enter her eighth year at Beaufort High in the fall, said in just one of her previous six years has she started a school year with a full staff, illustrating one of BCSD’s problems.
As of June 23, BCSD had 26 elementary school vacancies, 21 middle school vacancies, 22 high school vacancies and 18 special education vacancies. (Those numbers fluctuate as hiring season progresses.)
She expressed hope the District could fill many of those vacancies as more teachers would decide to remain in the district, as well as the profession, while the higher starting salaries attract better long-term job prospects.
The salary increases will not be limited to teachers. The BOE had already approved a $2,000 recruitment and retention bonus for all new and current full-time district employees who remain employed by the district on Nov. 15, 2022 to be paid in December. The BOE also already approved a FY 2022 3% retroactive cost of living adjustment for all BCSD employees that will be reflected in the base salary for the upcoming school year.
Classified, administrative, and professional employees will receive another 3% cost of living raise for FY 2023. This equates to an average increase of 6% for classified, administrative, and professional employees, in addition to a step increase.
Bus drivers will receive a 5% salary increase, coupled with a 3% cost of living raise for FY 2023 resulting in an average increase of 8%, in addition to a step increase.
Funding has also been included to meet state-mandated healthcare and retirement costs.
Rodriguez expressed gratitude for the approved compensation increases for district employees.
“By focusing on our staff, we are focusing on our students, he said.”
Erwin believes local teachers have realized they need to have a bigger voice and be a bigger part of the solutions.
“I also think it’s important that teachers stay at the forefront. They still need to be involved when things are good and ask questions when there are changes, she said. “… Between the budget and the superintendent being newly elected this fall, I hope we’ll see that our voices mattered again.”
Mike McCombs is the Editor of The Island News. He can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.