Richland Two board approves $3k new teacher signing bonus amid shortage

Richland School District Two offers sign-on bonuses for new teachers who choose to work in the district.
Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 11:45 AM EDT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The state’s fifth-largest school district is upping incentives to try to recruit educators for a national teacher shortage.

Richland School District Two’s board voted unanimously to approve $3,000 new teacher signing bonuses for next school year at its meeting on Tuesday night.

The board approved other bonuses as well.

According to Richland Two Chief Communications Officer Greg Turchetta, a “perfect storm” of reasons, which includes retirements, teachers leaving the profession and a lack of qualified candidates coming out of college has left the district about 150 teachers short for the 2023-2024 school year.

District officials project that number could jump to at least 300.

Richland Two leadership approved this bonus to help fill the gap before students for the new school year in August.

“Because what do you do in August if you’re still 100 teachers short?” Turchetta said. “That’s 100 classrooms that don’t have a teacher in it. Yeah, there’s substitutes, that’s a math problem that doesn’t add up. So if you can do a bonus now and try to attract from wherever we can get great teachers from, from other districts, out of college, wherever we can find them. We’re trying to hire talented people to put in our classrooms and we think this is a big step towards that.”

At the March 28 board meeting, Richland Two Interim Superintendent Nancy Gregory said, “Retention and recruitment have got to be a priority.”

In addition to the new teacher signing bonus, the district will offer a 1500 dollar signing bonus for all classified employee hires.

There are also key vacancies in these roles, according to district leadership.

This includes bus drivers, teaching assistants, food service, and maintenance.

Richland Two also approved a $1,000 bonus for all full-time current employees, and a $500 bonus for all current part-time employees, which will be going out in April.

The total cost for these bonuses is more than $8 million, with the funds coming from a prior year’s surplus.

“If it were to be a recurring thing, it would have to go into the budget,” Turchetta said. “We’re about to start the budgeting process and look at that.”

Patrick Kelly, a part-time Richland Two teacher and Director of Governmental Affairs with the Palmetto State Teachers Association, said the bonus is a “Band-Aid” to fix the problem of recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers, but an important one.

There is more work to be done to reverse the state’s teacher shortage, Kelly said.

“We have to also look at how do we improve working conditions so that teaching is an attractive profession, not only to people in other districts and to future employees that are high school or college kids right now, but how do we attract people back to the profession that have left in the last few years?” he said.

Kelly said he knows several teachers who left the profession in the Midlands in the last five years due to working conditions.

“We have to retain the teachers that we’ve got, while simultaneously attracting more talent,” he said. “Otherwise, we’re just pouring water into a bucket that has a hole in it.”

WIS asked Turchetta if he believes the problem with teacher retention is perhaps exacaberated in Richland Two due to some of the “dysfunction” on the board that was outlined in a scathing November South Carolina Inspector General report.

RELATED STORY: Richland Two board dysfunction detailed in scathing SC Inspector General report

“There’s certainly a lot of factors that go into it,” he said. “I would point to stuff in the classroom and in the school that’s probably more directly related.”

Turchetta mentioned discipline and safety concerns as possible factors.

Other Midlands school districts are offering these types of incentives as well.

New educators in Lexington-Richland School District 5 are eligible to receive a $2,500 bonus for up to three school years.

Richland School District one is offering a $2,000 new teacher signing bonus for next school year.

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