County teachers getting raises

Other school employees also get increase without tax hike in new budget

COUNTY — School District of Pickens County teachers will get overdue pay increases at no extra cost to county taxpayers under the district’s 2015-16 budget, which passed its final reading Monday night.

The school board gave the budget its final OK by a 5-1 vote at its meeting Monday, with board member Alex Saitta casting the lone dissenting vote.

The budget of nearly $110 million comes with no tax increase, but provides pay increases across the board, placing a high priority on teacher pay.

“This budget reflects an organizational philosophy of hiring first and hiring the best,” superintendent Dr. Danny Merck said. “Great schools rely on having great people, and this budget will help us to retain the excellent employees we have and to recruit people going forward.”

Two step increases for teachers — pay raises for years experience — that were skipped during the recession were caught up, in addition to funding the step increase that is mandated by the state this year.

“For several years surrounding districts were thanking us for being a training ground for teachers, because we couldn’t compete with salaries,” school board chairman Dr. Brian Swords said. “That time has ended. Our teacher salaries are on par with any district in our region, and when you consider the culture we have in place in our schools, I don’t think you could find a better place to work in South Carolina.”

In all, the budget includes $2,451,059 in raises for teachers.

Other groups of employees will see raises as well.

The budget restores one missed step increase for eligible classified staff members, and it includes a step increase for bus drivers. It also includes a two percent cost-of-living adjustment for bus drivers, classified staff and administrators. A non-recurring two percent cost-of-living bonus is also included for teachers with 23 years or more years of experience who are no longer eligible for step increases. Pay supplements for athletic coaches and band directors were increased by 20 percent, and supplements for JROTC instructors were increased by 10 percent.

“Our athletic supplements have been the lowest in the state for a while, so getting our pay scale corrected in that area was very important,” Merck said. “Athletic and band supplements are not only important for good sports and fine arts programs, they are also key for retaining coaches who teach in core areas.”

Pay scales for nurses, data entry clerks and bookkeepers were also revised to reflect the growing responsibilities of those positions.

The budget also features two important line items for STEM education: $66,000 for teacher training for the Project Light The Way program in elementary schools and an additional $40,000 for supplies and equipment at the Pickens County Career and Technology Center.

Many of the pay scale improvements were made possible by a combination of local growth and an increase in state funding. The district will also have 16 fewer teaching position and 10 fewer custodial positions, which yielded a savings of $1,025,134. All of the staff reductions were the result of attrition — eliminating positions only if they are already vacant so that no employees are laid off.

The student-to-teacher ratio will remain at 21.5 to 1.

“Our goal was to get people right, and our student-to-teacher ratio remains very low,” Merck said. “At the beginning of the year, the board and I met with staff and community stakeholders to establish our philosophy of how to make Pickens County a top-five school district in South Carolina over the next five years. This year’s budget not only adheres to the philosophy of hiring the best, but it puts us two years ahead of schedule on our five-year plan for the general fund.

“I’m excited about where our district is headed, and I think our students will benefit from the financial priorities we’ve set.”