SC teacher advocacy group says schools ‘potentially broken’

Education

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) — South Carolina’s public school system is “potentially broken,” a new survey done by the teacher advocacy group SC for Ed concluded.

“South Carolina’s public school staff issues have been well-document for decades, and teachers and student advocates have been sounding the alarm about these issues during the time,” the survey said. “However, there is a general sense in the education community, reflected in the responses to this survey, that something that was badly damaged before is now potentially broken.”

Data from the “Temperature Check” survey of roughly 1,600 teachers and other school staff members was collected in October and November. It showed that 38% of surveyed planned to leave their current positions.

“The data from the current survey reinforces the need for districts and other educational leaders to better fund and prioritize both permanent teacher and support staff, and substitute teaching staff,” SC for Ed’s report on the survey said.

“Teachers just feel like they’re drowning. I saw that word over and over again the past couple surveys that we do that people just feel like they’re underwater,” said Steve Nuzum, the SC for ED Director of Research.

Among the 1,539 responses to the survey, 53.7% said they do not think their school/district has enough staff and/or substitutes to remain safely open. Another 21.5% percent said they were not sure.

“Right now we’re in a situation where we’re asking everybody to step up and do extra work. I mean we got bus drivers who are working in the cafeteria,” said Ken Richardson, the Horry County School Board Chairman.

The survey also said that many districts have received “unprecedented” federal monies, including more than $940 million in ESSER II funds, but have not used that money to solve staffing issues that are contributing to teacher burnout and making schools less safe.

Horry County Schools was allocated $125 million in ESSER fund and added 72 “learning loss interventionists (math/English) positions” to the district’s current budget, spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said in an email.

The district currently has 29 unfilled spots for interventionists, mainly for middle and high school math, she said. There are also several math/science vacancies in the district’s middle and high schools, along with several special education-related openings for aides and therapists.

“We knew the positions would be tough to fill, especially the math positions,” she said. “We compete with other school districts in our state and region for additional teachers.”

Bourcier also said the district’s pool of substitute teachers, nurses, cafeteria workers and custodians is smaller than in pre-pandemic years. However, she said the district has increased the hourly pay rates for substitutes, who also are scheduled to get bonus pay recently approved by the county’s board of education.

“Also incorporated in the 2021-22 budget is the complete implementation of the comprehensive employee compensation study,” Bourcier said. “All employees received a compensation increase either through to the impact of the study, the application of the STEP increase and/or the $1,000 increase in teacher salaries as mandated by the state.”

Some other key findings reported in the SC for Ed survey include:

  • 56% reported being required to cover classes for absent staff members at least once per week; 39% of those who said they were required to cover classes also said they were not paid
  • More than 40% of those surveyed said they were required to teach both virtually and in person
  • 18% reported being requiredto teach both virtually and in person without getting extra pay.

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