Courier Letters to the Editor

In response to Saitta

Dear Editor,

I want to respond to the hundreds of letters written by Pickens County School Board member Alex Saitta attacking teachers, public education and the School District of Pickens County.

In just his last letter published in the Pickens County Courier, Saitta is trying to convince the good people of Pickens County that teachers “were given raises eight out of the last 10 years.” This is typical of the manipulation of facts that Saitta has used over the past 10 years.

His experience as a Wall Street stock broker in New York has served him well in convincing the poor people of Pickens County that their greatest enemies in the world are the teachers and administrators of the School District of Pickens County.

Teachers in Pickens County have not been given raises in eight of the last 10 years. Teachers have gotten step increases. Public school teachers in South Carolina are given step increases each year for their qualifying professional experience and ongoing academic training. That is why I accepted a $17,000 salary my first year as a teacher, even though I had a college education (teacher salaries have lagged behind other professions which require similar education for a very long time).

The promise of those step increases was guaranteed by law in South Carolina. Teaching experience has an inherent value, increasing the worth of a teacher to the district. A step increase isn’t about how much the cost of living has risen this year (which is occasionally given as a raise) — rather, step increases are given because a teacher’s skills have improved, thus making them more valuable. In fact, “step’’ increments are not raises, but forms of deferred compensation aimed at saving districts money.

If teachers were to reach their maximum salary within a few years, as is the case in other professions, the cost to school districts would balloon exponentially.

In 2011 and 2012, the state of South Carolina broke its promise to teachers when the state legislature voted to allow school districts to suspend teacher steps — meaning teachers were not paid the salaries they were promised when they accepted their positions.

Seventeen out of the 81 school districts in South Carolina suspended step increases. All have reinstated those increases except Pickens County. The district is in the process of phasing those steps back in, but the money lost in the last four or five years will never be made up.

I am sure that some people will claim that I am just writing this to increase my salary. However, I have been teaching for 31 years, and the step increases no longer affect me. I am just tired of distortions of the truth designed to hurt the public’s image of teachers.

These step increases are also important in the recruitment of new teachers. Competing with neighboring school districts for new teachers, Pickens County has to deal with the fact that in the United States, anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of teachers will leave the classroom within their first five years. In theory, the classroom hours aren’t bad and the summers are free. But many young teachers soon realize they must do overwhelming amounts of after-hours work. They pour out emotional energy into their work, which breeds quick exhaustion.

A lot of older teachers eventually feel pressured to advance into higher-level administration as their careers progress in order to better support their families. Teaching is a profession filled with a lack of respect and low salary. That is expected. What you don’t expect is to be attacked by your own school board members.

Bill Wilson


All schools remain open despite siege

Dear Editor,

In a recent letter to the editor in the Pickens County Courier, a tea party activist congratulated herself and fellow tea party activists for the fact our school district administration did not ask for a tax increase in the proposed budget for 2015-16.

She also poked fun at Concerned Citizens of Pickens County for supporting a modest mill rate increase to prevent school closings, restore teacher pay and fund repairs of our buildings. We’ll give her credit for seeing the cup half full while we keep fighting to fill it to the rim.

The current budget proposal does not include a tax increase, does not close the gap in teacher pay and does not provide adequate funding for capital needs. But it does take measures to keep each of our 26 schools open, and this is certainly worth celebrating!

As you may recall, the conversation about school consolidation first surfaced at the beginning of the budget process last fall. In an effort to “trim the fat” from our already lean budget, budget committees looked at per-pupil spending and zeroed in on the inefficiencies of our smaller schools, concluding that consolidation of our smaller schools could serve as an alternative to raising the taxes we pay for school operations.

Months after budget committees shared their conclusions publicly, the Supreme Court ruled on the Abbeville case, which increased the likelihood that the state would increase funding to our school district for 2015-16. A couple of months later, financial advisors to the school district suggested that we refinance our school bonds to increase revenue for capital needs. Refinancing provided $3.2 million in recurring revenue, thus enabling the district to implement a technology plan that we desperately needed to provide our students with a 21st-century education. These developments changed the prognosis for our school district and helped to remove our smaller schools from the chopping block.

Ultimately, each of our schools will remain open because of the determination of superintendent Dr. Danny Merck and his team to keep them open, despite the tea party’s siege.

A balanced budget for 2015-16 relies on:

• An energy management program to save the school district $298,000 next year.

• A single catching-up step increase for certified and classified employees instead of two (our teachers are paid thousands less than teachers in neighboring districts).

• Zero increases for nurses, bookkeepers and data entry salaries in 2015-16.

• Zero increases in band and athletics supplements.

• Just 50 percent funding for classroom supplies … again.

• 16 teachers and 10 custodians who are retiring or leaving will not be replaced. This will have an impact of varying degrees in our schools. For example, one Pickens Middle School parent wrote to us saying, “It concerns me greatly that video lessons will be used in place of a sixth-grade social studies teacher next year.”

• No STEM funding.

• $1 million in unfunded capital needs in 2015-16, which requires delaying roofs and HVAC repairs in some of our older schools for another year.

While we are not satisfied with the current budget proposal, we recognize the challenges Dr. Merck and his team face with the school board we have. So we celebrate the $3.2 million we gained by refinancing and the $1.5 million increase provided by the state. We celebrate the positive relationships that we have with leaders in our business community, and we celebrate every one of you who has refused to relinquish control of our school district to tea party operatives.

Others haven’t been so diligent, and the tea party movement has cost them dearly:

• Six school districts in Kansas are closing early this year because they can’t afford to stay open. The no-tax pledge in that state is failing abysmally, and the students in Kansas are paying the price.

• A school board in Brevard County, Fla., voted to close three schools instead of passing a modest millage rate increase to keep them open.

• A school board in West Clermont, Ohio, has forced the school district to merge with a neighboring school district just to keep schools open.

We will not wait until schools close to wake up to what is happening in Pickens County. We are wide awake, and we will work tirelessly to protect our children and the people responsible for educating them!

For more information, please visit us at

Robin Nelson Miller