Originally created 12/23/99

Teacher raises sought



COLUMBIA -- Want better teachers? A governor's panel suggests paying them more to do a better job.

Money -- and more of it -- dominated 14 pages of preliminary recommendations unveiled Wednesday by the Governor's Commission on Teacher Quality. The report, written mainly by members of the education establishment, suggests ideas that can be put in place quickly to reverse South Carolina's swelling teacher shortage.

The ideas appear costly, but none have dollar figures attached. The committee was asked to come up with ideas, not estimate the tab.

A more comprehensive report, due in September, will address long-term fixes, including a closer look at the role of teachers.

"I believe every child deserves quality teachers in their classrooms," Gov. Jim Hodges said after unveiling the plan, taking the opportunity to tout his own agenda. "These recommendations are a great help in our efforts to reward and retain our best teachers."

While South Carolina searches for ways to improve teacher quality, it is scrambling to fill vacancies in nearly every subject and geographic area. At the same time, colleges are graduating 30 percent more potential teachers than a decade ago. But less than half of them decide to enter the profession.

When school doors opened in August, there were 500 teacher slots yet to be filled -- 150 more than the year before.

The state Department of Education predicts the numbers will be more staggering as more baby boomers retire and school boards continue reducing class sizes. Other states are feeling the crunch, too, and are stiffening the competition with money. That means potential teachers are turning to Georgia and North Carolina for jobs.

Last year, 801 teachers in South Carolina retired. Another 387 left teaching entirely, and 455 left for jobs in bordering states. South Carolina hired 6,739 new teachers, however. Of those, 33 percent graduated from South Carolina schools.

A survey of the 1998-1999 graduating class of teacher cadets found that 25 percent probably wouldn't become educators because the pay is better in other professions; 7 percent cited a lack of public support for teachers; and 2 percent said there wasn't enough parental interest.

While money isn't the magic solution, the lack of it is driving many teachers from the classroom.

A teacher with a bachelor's degree and no previous experience makes $23,312 a year in South Carolina. In North Carolina, the same teacher could make $24,050 and in Georgia, $26,328. As the degree increases, as well as the experience, the gap grows wider -- especially between Georgia and South Carolina.

The governor's commission wants to close that gap. It wants to promote teaching by aggressively seeking positive education news and establishing an Educators Hall of Fame. Other recommendations include:

Reward South Carolina's Teacher of the Year with $25,000 and give the four finalists $10,000. The state's top teacher now gets a new car.

Ask state agencies to include a link on their Internet sites to the Center for Teacher Recruitment and the statewide job application.

Fund an additional five contract days for professional development

Give teachers more time during the day to plan and collaborate.

Give incentives such as more pay and classroom assistance to teachers who serve as mentors.

Reach Chasiti Kirkland at (803) 279-6895.