South Carolina teachers should get a raise next year but their non-teaching co-workers should not, State Education Superintendent Mick Zais says.
Zais advice, offered in a letter to state senators this week, put him at odds with House lawmakers, who have directed school districts to give raises to all employees, not just teachers. But the Houses method for giving those raises is convoluted, according to a Zais spokesman, and would require the state Department of Education to spend less money training teachers.
The House passed its version of the state budget, including the raises, last month.
The Senate is just beginning to prepare its version of the budget for the states fiscal year that starts July 1, and Zais proposal for teacher-only raises was well received Thursday by the Senate Finance Committees K-12 subcommittee.
State Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, the subcommittees chairman, said while it is laudable what the House is trying to do it is essentially an unfunded mandate because the state only pays raises for teachers, not other school district employees.
The Senate, my guess, would probably be reluctant to mandate something to the districts that we dont pay for, he said.
But it takes more than a teacher to educate a child, counters state Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, the primary author of the education portion of the House budget.
We believe everyone is important and every job is important, Bingham said. Teachers are very important. But I dont think teachers want to be in a classroom just by (themselves). Do they want to administer medication to the students? No. Do they want to clean their classroom? No. Do they want to handle all the discipline and the hearings? No.
There is broad agreement throughout the General Assembly that state workers, including teachers, deserve raises this year. Most of those workers have gone without raises for several years while the state endured harsh budget cuts because of the Great Recession. But this year, because of an improving economy, the state has an extra $1 billion to spend about half of which is recurring money, meaning it should be available in subsequent years to pay for recurring costs, including raises for state workers.
House lawmakers approved a 2 percent raise for state workers, which will cost taxpayers about $24 million.
But giving raises to teachers is more complicated because of the way that South Carolina pays for education. House lawmakers chose to put an extra $152 million in one of the largest funds that pays for education the Education Finance Act to pay for a 2 percent salary increase for all school-level employees, from janitors to principals. But that proposed raise does not include school district administrators, including superintendents.
When some school districts said that wasnt enough money, House lawmakers took $7 million from several education administrative programs, including teacher training, and earmarked that money instead for teacher raises. The House also gave some school districts an out, allowing them to skip the raises if they could prove they could not afford to pay them.
In his letter, Zais, a critic of school system administrative costs, urged senators to reverse the House and restore the $7 million to his departments administrative programs. He said the state should require a raise for teachers only and school districts should not be allowed to opt out of giving the raises.
(Dr. Zais) believes dollars should be directed to the classroom where they yield the greatest return for the taxpayer. That means teachers, said Jay Ragley, Zais spokesman. School districts overspend on administration and facilities. Thats been his opinion for almost three years now.
Zais plan to give teachers raises is more direct. He would require school districts to give teachers a one-step salary increase about 2 percent depending on various factors, according to the teacher salary schedule. But that means longtime teachers, already at the top of the pay scale, would not get a raise, said Roger Smith, executive director of the S.C. Education Association.
You are penalizing those senior teachers the most, Smith said.
Spokesman Ragley agreed Zais plan would not require school districts to give raises to teachers who are already at the top of the pay scale. But he said local school districts easily could give those senior teachers a raise.
The states per-pupil funding of education cut dramatically in the recession has increased almost 25 percent in the last two budgets, Ragley said. They should have funds available.
Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.