Richland School District 1 reverses course; summer camp teachers to get performance bonus

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Published: Sep. 6, 2022 at 7:52 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Richland School District 1 leadership announced Tuesday the district will pay a group of summer camp teachers what they are contractually owed, after initially signaling otherwise.

The issue centers around an agreement the 13 teachers signed for a district summer camp for gifted students - “Einstein 2.0.”

The program ran from June 13 to July 21. The work agreement between the teachers and the district spelled out a $500 bonus if the students under the respective teacher’s responsibility tested high enough.

An “Einstein 2.0″ teacher reported to WIS that a district staffer sent an email to the group on August 24. The staffer wrote the district had provided the teachers with the wrong contract for the camp work and the $500 incentive would not be honored.

The Einstein 2.0 teacher interviewed with WIS, expressing frustration at the district’s behavior.

“It’s hard to come to work some days because you just know the nonsense that you have deal with, so it’s difficult,” they said.

WIS contacted the district on Friday, Sept. 2 about the story. Richland School District 1 spokesperson Karen York initially sent WIS this statement:

We are aware of the communication that was sent, and we are addressing the issues and questions that have arisen. We will resolve the issues with those who are impacted as soon as possible.

At the time, WIS pressed the district for more information about what had led to the conflict and how the district would move forward. WIS submitted FOIAs for more information on what transpired.

WIS followed up with York on Tuesday, informing her of the pending story to be aired that day. York provided this update Tuesday afternoon:

The email in question was sent to Einstein 2.0 teachers (secondary program) only. The district has acknowledged that the agreement teachers signed will be honored. Therefore, any teacher who met the attendance or achievement criteria will receive their incentive.

WIS further followed up with York, asking several questions including what led to the reversal, if the district had any apology for the teachers, and who had approved the email telling the teachers they wouldn’t be paid?

She issued the following statement:

The initial email that was sent to the 13 teachers in the Einstein 2.0 summer program was incorrect due to human error. A mistake was made, and we apologize for any confusion that was created as a result. As soon as this matter was brought to our attention, we took steps immediately to address it. We believe that the initial information communicated to the teachers needed to be honored. Therefore, any teachers who met the criteria for the attendance or achievement incentives will receive them Friday, September 9.

Across the district in various summer programs, 86 teachers qualified for the $500 achievement incentive.

It was never communicated to the teachers that they would receive the incentives on September 1.

It’s not immediately clear how many of the 13 teachers qualified for the $500 bonus.

The Einstein 2.0 teacher told WIS they are contemplating leaving the district in the aftermath of the episode.

“When you’re here in this position, you understand why there’s a teacher shortage and why teachers don’t want to teach in this district or teach in this state period, because you have no one to back you up,” they said.

Richland School District 1 reported 180 teacher vacancies in August.

Labor attorney Malissa Burnette said the district could face court cases if it doesn’t pay the teachers.

“It’s not just a breach of contract, but South Carolina also has a payment of wages law where if the court found that they weren’t paid according to the contract, the court in its discretion could award three times the amount due as well as with attorney’s fees,” she said.

Burnette said it was “unfair” the district had waited until weeks after the camp was completed to inform the teachers of the issue.

School Board Chair Cheryl Harris and Vice Chair Angela Clyburn did not return requests for comment on Tuesday.

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