S.C. uses housing to entice teachers

Up to half of S.C. teachers will be eligible for retirement in the next decade.

Hardest hit will be the state's rural school districts, already struggling to attract teachers.

In response, the state of South Carolina - which wants to become a national leader in teacher recruitment - has launched several initiatives to entice new workers to the teaching profession, particularly to rural schools.

"Because of the baby boomers, there's a tsunami of retirements coming that we need to be prepared for," said Mark Bounds, an assistant superintendent with the State Department of Education.

Bounds' office has created several new recruitment initiatives in the past 1 1/2 years.

Most recent is, a social site specifically for S.C. certified teachers. It went online about a month ago and is the first Web site of its kind in the nation.

"Often you get a teacher who moves here - from say Chicago - and they get here and find themselves all by themselves in an isolated place, a rural area," said Allison Jacques of the state Department of Education.

Teachers can log on to the site to socialize with other S.C. teachers and share professional advice.

"I recently saw a post on there, '25 ways to teach with Twitter,'" Bounds said. "While the site is for socializing, we know they're also sharing some great advice with each other."

Equally important to helping teachers feel connected is providing them with adequate housing.

There, local school districts and the state are trying to help.

With a grant from the state Chamber of Commerce and money from the town of Saluda and its school district, for example, a six-unit apartment building in downtown Saluda was renovated and turned into modern loft apartments specifically for teachers.

Teachers who agree to work in Saluda can live in the rental apartments and also receive a free membership to a local gym.

The State Department of Education hopes to see similar housing projects.

Its S.C. Teacher Village initiative provides free, pre-approved architectural housing plans to local school districts and encourages the districts to partner with those in the community to build the housing.

"Superintendents have told us that it's really a shame that they recruit teachers and the only housing available is (rundown) rentals or mobile homes," Jacques said. "It's hard to believe, but there are lots of cities in South Carolina that don't have apartment complexes or other housing for young professionals."

There's also an effort to provide low-interest loans to teachers.

Last year, a partnership between the State Department of Education and the State Housing Authority made $20 million in low-interest housing loans to 170 S.C. teachers who met certain income guidelines and were first-time home buyers.

"All of the loans were snatched up in just three months," said Bounds, who hopes the Housing Authority will provide additional loans this year.

But there's still a long way to go to attracting new teachers to the Palmetto State.

One piece that Bounds hopes will be addressed: teacher pay.

"It really does demonstrate that teachers don't make a lot of money. When you're having to entice them with housing and low-interest loans, it speaks to how we compensate teachers, the people whom we entrust with our most precious resources," Bounds said.

However, the odds of teachers getting higher pay anytime soon are low as the state and local tax bases reel from the just-ending recession.