Potential raises for SC teachers leaves other education staff feeling undervalued

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Politicians will soon begin hashing-out the state's coffers and will debate how to spend $8 billion, including your tax dollars, on the House of Representatives floor, but some public schools staff call lawmakers' blueprint or budget rough draft, "disappointing."

Some faculty at the Kershaw County School District want more money from the state per student; in other words, that's an increase on what's known as the Base Student Cost. There is no increase in the House draft so far — the House Ways and Means Committee proposes allocating $32 million to keep the rate as it is.

The Department of Education did request to increase the overall Base Student Cost to $2,550.

Kershaw County educators say that could have allowed them to give some other behind-the-scenes staff raises.

Committee Chairman Brian White says what's in the budget plan so far, $32 million, would go to pay for a teacher pay increase. White said that there's a tight budget this year and that teachers were the best route to go, pushing starting salary from $30,000 to $32,000, calling them the "frontline workers" in schools.

"We have a limited amount of money, and we have to be balanced," White said.

Some administrators love the approach, despite the constraints in an effort to further invest in teaching.

"I was really pleased at the Ways and Means budget earmarked money for teacher salary raises. That's very critical in our state to attract and retain teachers," Kershaw County Schools Superintendent Frank Morgan said."I think the way this budget is structured puts me in a position where there are possibly going to be winners and losers."

Inside South Carolina schools, there are day-to-day jobs outside of classrooms that go unnoticed, according to Billy Smith who works at the Kershaw district to get students to school, makes sure they are fed, and checks to make sure the air conditioning and heating are running.

"By gosh, teachers are where the rubber meets the road," Smith said. "They are a very, very important part of the education system. But those raises don't go to the folks like us in operations.

So, Smith's hoping state budget writers will consider them for pay raise by increasing the Base Student Cost.

With the raise for teachers, South Carolina still falls below bordering states Georgia and North Carolina, whose education departments fund minimum teachers at $34,092 and $35,000, respectively. But in the state government spending blueprint, people like Smith are left off that list for raises.

"I know it makes my people feel less valued, and that's a concern," Smith said.

Superintendent Morgan adds funding school safety measures to his list of concerns. There are bills inside the State House to require all schools be staffed with School Resource Officers (SRO), to be equipped with metal detectors, and to allow certain school staff carry firearms concealed. Morgan feels any such mandate should be funded by the state.

Governor Henry McMaster proposed $5 million for a trial program to get SROs in every school in South Carolina, but that's not in the budget draft, yet. In his Executive Budget plan, McMaster wrote: "Too often we have seen crime and violence find their way into our schools and classrooms. Fear inhibits learning. A safe learning environment can be enhanced by the presence of a certified, trained police officer as a shield against disruption and tragedy. This budget provides $5 million for a need-based gr ant program for school resource officers. Every school in every county should have a trained police officer on campus all day, every day."

Department of Education spokesman Ryan Brown said, "The Superintendent is supportive of requiring schools to conduct active shooter drills. If the state puts requirements on schools staffing SROs (we believe armed, trained law enforcement to be the best form of protection in schools), the state should provide whole or partial funding. If the state requires metal detectors, they should be wholly or partially funded by the state."

Committee Chairman White says the Ways and Means committee has drafted dollars to go to mental health and for student services programs.

That committee also proposes allocating $8 million to school buses, suggesting $3 million annually and $5 million as a one-time funding.

The House is set to start debating that spending plan on March 12.

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