Originally created 05/21/05

Schools expect loss of officials



AIKEN - Higher salaries in surrounding school districts and a state retirement incentive program might remove more administrators from Aiken County in the next two years than school officials are able to replace.

The two factors are causing officials to brace for one of the largest administrator shortages Aiken County has ever faced.

This year, one principal and three assistant principals are leaving for higher-paying positions in other districts.

Ten administrators, including principals and assistant superintendents, will be eligible to retire in the next two years through the state-sanctioned Teacher and Employee Retention Incentive program.

"We really don't have that huge rate of attrition during a school year," said Marion Gary, the assistant superintendent for administration for the district. "Normally, we have one or two."

Initially created to recruit more teachers to the profession, the program will accomplish the opposite for administrators beginning in January 2006, when a significant number will become eligible to retire.

When the state launched the retirement incentive program in 2001, it offered all school employees the opportunity to begin accumulating retirement annuity on a deferred basis while working for up to 60 more months.

Several Aiken County administrators signed on at once, which means many will be exiting the program at the same time.

Although the coming shortage isn't exclusive to Aiken County, the situation might be more dire locally.

"All the school systems have this group that will be eligible to leave employment," Superintendent Linda Eldridge said. "To me, that means everyone is going to be looking to fill positions that are vacant. But part of the problem for Aiken is, Georgia has traditionally offered higher salaries, and we're not getting as many applicants from outside the district as we would like to see."

In recent years, the school district has focused much attention on stopping teacher shortages by offering $1,000 signing bonuses for math, science and special education teachers and one of the state's highest starting salaries to new teachers. But no focus has been put on recruiting or retaining administrators.

"It gets your attention when you have three of your assistant principals recruited," Mrs. Eldridge said. "Each of the individuals who left, it was for a significant salary increase, and it was a lateral move."

One assistant high school principal was hired for the same position in Orangeburg County but will earn $8,000 more a year.

Aiken County is encouraging its own teachers to move up in the administrative ranks by enrolling them in leadership training programs. Twenty teachers are involved this year.

But a monetary incentive might be the only way to keep administrators from moving on, she said.

"The conditions for working are very desirable," Mrs. Gary said. "They love working in Aiken County, but the salary difference makes the difference."

Reach Krista Zilizi at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106, or krista.zilizi@augustachronicle.com