Patrick Martin. Photo provided.

Research on best practices in classrooms shows that the number one factor that impacts student learning is a passionate and engaged teacher.  

Currently, many of our Charleston County classrooms are having a hard time just finding a teacher. The good news is that there are steps being taken to remedy this, but we need community support.

In response to a historic high of teacher vacancies in Charleston County, the Charleston Chamber of Commerce, community leaders, students, school board members, teachers and school district officials have been working since August on the Charleston County School District (CCSD)  CCSD Teacher Compensation Task Force to find the best way to retain and attract the best teachers for our students. 

The task force has recommended a starting salary of $58,000 this year. The number was arrived at after much study that included years that teachers’ wages were stagnate and a cost of living that now leaves Charleston County teachers unable to afford to live in their own communities. 

There are myriad reasons why increasing teacher pay is the right thing to do right now, but the most pressing – and perhaps most overlooked – is the adverse impact of the teacher retention crisis on students.

The data about our teacher shortage is staggering. According to the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement (CERRA), the 2022/23 school year began with 1,474 vacant positions in South Carolina compared to 1,063 the previous year. Then in February 2023, the group then added an additional 880 teacher departures since the beginning of school in the fall of 2022.. This means overcrowded classrooms, overworked teachers and, sadly, students who are being deprived of those foundational teacher relationships.

The teacher retention and recruitment crisis has hit Charleston hard because of the cost of living, but we believe that the Charleston County school board can remedy this situation by acting now. 

Should the Charleston County School Board consider the task force’s recommended starting salary of $58,000 too much of an increase, we are asking that the salary of every teacher be increased by at least $7,000 to begin to reverse teacher shortages. That increase would mean a first-year teacher would be paid $50,000. 

Community members are showing their support by signing a petition, which has already garnered more than 2,100 signatures in recent days This action would require a millage increase, but it would not have any effect on owner-occupied property taxes. For everything the state of South Carolina’s projected revenues do not cover, state law gives school boards the authority to raise taxes locally by raising the millage on non-owner occupied property (second homes, businesses, boats, cars, etc.) The total allowable millage a school board can raise each year by law varies; this year, the millage cap for the CCSD board is 14.5 mills.  Based on the value of a mill here, the estimated cost of increasing CCSD teacher salaries by $5,000 and $10,000 may be possible with an increase of 7.1 mills to 14.5 mills. Click here to learn more about millage. 

Teachers and community supporters are planning to speak at the 5:15 p.m. May 22 Charleston County School Board meeting to encourage the board to go beyond the proposals that have been mentioned in the audit and finance committee meetings, and we need community members to join us. If you would like to speak, you may sign up here or if you cannot be there and would like to submit a public comment, you may click here. We all have a vital interest in ensuring Charleston County schools provide the best for our children.

I have spent the past 24 years teaching, but I also have a 3-year-old and a 15-year-old. As a teacher and a parent, I cannot think of a better way to invest in the future of Charleston County than advocating to pass this measure to retain and recruit the best teachers for our children. 

Patrick Martin is a high school English teacher at Charleston County School of the Arts and former Teacher of the Year at Wando High School. He and his family  live in North Charleston.

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