Education

This SC school district has a plan to keep teachers around — a $5,000 annual bonus

Why are SC teachers fleeing at record rates? Here’s a look at the crisis by the numbers

SC teachers are leaving the SC public school system at a rapid pace, deterred by factors from low pay to discipline issues in the classroom.
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SC teachers are leaving the SC public school system at a rapid pace, deterred by factors from low pay to discipline issues in the classroom.

Come teach at this S.C. school district and you will get a $5,000 bonus.

Leaders of the Fairfield County School District agreed Tuesday to give all full-time employees a bonus in December, if they stick around or come work for the district in August.

Aimed at curbing the increasing problem of S.C. teachers quitting, which the State newspaper explored in an in-depth project in May, the district’s decision to give bonuses will put $5,000 in the pockets of full-time teachers, guidance counselors and other certified employees. Other staff members — bus drivers, cafeteria workers, clerical and janitorial staff, for example — will receive a $3,000 bonus, said Fairfield School District Superintendent J. R. Green.

Expected to cost about $2.8 million a year, the bonuses will be distributed to employees in December each year, he said.

Combined with the bonuses, if the S.C. Legislature approves a 5 percent raise, included in S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s budget proposal, first-year teachers will be earning about $44,500 in their first year, Green added.

“Anyone who has been following the news sees that teacher retention, and just attracting people to the profession, is almost at a crisis level,” Green said.

“Obviously, that is not a sustainable model.”

Bonuses aimed at curbing crisis

A rural district, Fairfield has struggled with turnover, Green said.

However, the district has been able to fill vacancies by casting a wide net for teachers. “That has entailed us combing the entire globe to make this happen,” Green said, noting the number of international teachers in classrooms.

Last school year, the district had 25 international teachers, The State found after looking into how school districts, especially rural ones, are leaning heavily on international teachers, here on temporary visas, to fill classroom vacancies.

Green said Fairfield leaders are likely “trendsetters” in offering the bonuses yearly to all employees.

“It is an incentive to join the Fairfield family” and to stay, he said.

Others agree.

“That large of a bonus, that’s pretty unique,” said Becky Bean, a spokesperson with the S.C. School Boards Association.

Still, other districts see bonuses as a recruitment tool.

Lexington 2 offers a $2,500 signing bonus for teachers in special education, foreign language, and some levels of math, English, social studies and science, a district spokesperson said.

School districts in York, Chester and Lancaster counties said they do not offer such bonuses.

Some districts with high turnover rates have benefited from money the state set aside to offer smaller bonuses to attract or retain teachers.

In late 2016, Cherokee County School District started giving a $10,000 bonus to newly hired teachers who agreed to sign a two-year contract, The Greenville News reported.

Fairfield’s effort to attract quality teachers comes at a time when the county has had its share of bad news.

About 5,000 people working at a nuclear plant in Jenkinsville lost their jobs mid-2017 when SCE&G and the state-owned Santee Cooper utility decided to pull the plug on construction of two nuclear reactors.

And the county hospital also closed recently.

Green said the closures have nothing to do with the district’s workforce challenges, which are more of a reflection of too many teachers leaving the classroom and too few deciding to go to school to become teachers.

“The teacher shortage is becoming increasingly worse,” he said, adding, “In order for us to provide quality and competent educators, we’re going to have to do some things different.”

Jamie Self is a projects reporter writing about health care, education, criminal justice and more. An alum of The State’s politics and State House team, Jamie has won several first place awards for education and government beat reporting and has contributed to wins for political and public service journalism. @jamiemself


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