Nearly one in 10 of S.C. public school teachers quit their jobs last year. Meanwhile, state workers long have argued their pay is too low, leading them to find jobs elsewhere — particularly in the higher paying private sector — fueling a staffing shortage at state agencies.
Now, two advocacy groups are calling for teachers and state workers to rally at 9 a.m. Saturday, May 19 on the State House steps in Columbia.
"I hope it starts the process of addressing the crisis that we have in state agencies and education," said Carlton Washington, head of the S.C. State Employees Association, whose group will join the S.C. Education Association at the rally, being promoted online at scstrong.eventbrite.com.. "It's the first step in what we hope is a process of addressing these issues."
What do those issues include?
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Low pay leads the list, advocates say.
About 75 percent of all state workers earn less than $41,000 a year, according to the state Administration Department.
▪ The state's "teaching crisis" has resulted, in part, from teachers being underpaid and overworked, advocates say. Those advocates worry the shortage of teachers could balloon this summer, when hundreds of experienced teachers leave their classrooms for retirement.
A legislative effort is underway to keep those teachers in the classroom — at least for a year — by exempting them from the state's $10,000 cap on the salary of most working state retirees.
▪ At the state's second-largest agency — the state Corrections Department — critics say the state does not pay its corrections officers enough to fill hundreds of vacancies. With unemployment so low, they say it is hard to fill the agency's 627 open positions for prison officers, whose jobs can be dangerous and exhausting.
In April, for example, seven inmates were killed and 22 others injured after one of the nation's deadliest prison riots in recent history broke out at Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville. One in four jobs at that maximum-security prison are vacant.
In a joint statement, Washington and S.C. Education Association president Bernadette Hampton urged state workers and teachers to unify "to show our resolve in calling for equitable funding for education and state services."
"Instead of teachers walking out of the classroom and state workers walking out of state agencies, we are walking in to our leaders to talk about addressing the crises that are at hand," Washington said. "We're doing it a bit different, but this is our first attempt to resolve these issues, because something has to be done."