Hundreds await teaching contracts

COLUMBIA --- Hundreds of public school teachers in South Carolina will go home this weekend without assurances they'll have jobs next school year.


School districts face a deadline today for handing out teacher contracts for 2009-10.

The Legislature gave officials an extra month this year to make their rehiring decisions -- extending the deadline from April 15. But with the governor still refusing $185 million in federal money for kindergarten through 12th-grade education, many districts are playing it safe and passing budgets without the funds. Others are creating two budgets.

"It's a bad idea to depend on anything that's not certain. I'd rather plan one way and have it come back as additional," said Michael Bobby, chief financial officer of Charleston County schools.

Officials say first-year teachers and those who had returned to the classroom after retiring are most affected. Horry County's 165 rehired retirees were told not to count on a job, and many first-year teachers didn't get contracts.

"If you're looking at fairness and equity, it's who came last," said spokeswoman Teal Britton. "But we're still a long way from saying, 'You don't have a job.' People come and go on a daily basis."

Teachers have until May 25 to sign their contracts.

Chapin High social studies teacher Alexa Claremont, 31, in her first year teaching, said she's been looking for a job since February, when she was told her contract would not be renewed.

"I'm very discouraged. I look on every job site in the state every day," said Ms. Claremont, who holds a master's degree and teaches advanced placement courses. "If I were a math or science teacher, maybe. If I were a football coach, I'd be all in, but I'm a social studies teacher."

Advocates say some teachers are in wait-and-see mode, as administrators tell them the job is there if stimulus money arrives.

The Legislature this week sent Gov. Mark Sanford a budget that includes $350 million in federal cash he has refused to take unless lawmakers use it to pay down state bond debt.

"I'm holding my breath the districts will have the necessary funds to be able to hire these teachers back," said Kathy Maness, executive director of the Palmetto State Teachers Association.

Officials expect to eliminate 1,500 teaching jobs without the money, but still will cut 1,000 jobs with it, according to a state Education Department survey.