Pay for new teachers tops state

Even if South Carolina teacher salaries are frozen next school year, first-year Aiken County teachers can still count on their pay remaining tops in the state.

Aiken County school salaries ranked No. 1 in the state for first- through third-year teachers at any degree level, according to state Education Department figures. The county has ranked No. 1 since 2002.

In 2008, Aiken County first-year teachers with a bachelor's degree earned $35,729, with $6,703 coming from a local supplement. The county's overall average teacher pay of $46,833 ranks 20th statewide.

Aiken County Human Resources Director Joyce Stanley said the local supplement will help in recruiting graduates and new teachers for the coming school year.

The district usually recruits from South Carolina and Georgia, but Mrs. Stanley said that in recent years an online database search has helped woo teachers from the Midwest, particularly Michigan and Ohio.

For the past seven years, the district has also offered signing bonuses of $1,000 for teachers in math, science and special education.

The budget crunch could put those bonuses and cost-of-living raises in jeopardy.

State Superintendent Jim Rex said Tuesday during House budget sessions that freezing teacher salaries is one of the few ways the agency could cut costs in the next fiscal year unless districts are given more spending flexibility.

Aiken County Superintendent Beth Everitt said Monday that she couldn't comment on the future of teacher salaries but that the county's final budget would depend on what the Legislature decides this year.

The Aiken County school board can't eliminate or reduce the salary supplement of $6,703, Comptroller Tray Traxler said.

In recent years, even with statewide cost-of-living raises, South Carolina has dropped nationally in average teacher pay.

The state ranked 33rd in 2006, down from 28th in 2004, according to the American Federation of Teachers. Georgia ranked 17th in 2006, down from 15th in 2004.

The average Georgia salary is $49,836. Columbia County offers first-year teachers with a bachelor's degree $36,824. Richmond County did not respond to requests for teacher salary information.

Mrs. Stanley said that although Georgia tends to offer more money, staying close on average pay and offering a quality work environment help keep new educators on the South Carolina side of the state line.

"Either way things go this year, though, we'll face a difficult budget year, and the ultimate goal is to fill positions where educational needs are met," Mrs. Stanley said.

Reach Julia Sellers at (706) 823-3424 or julia.sellers@augustachronicle.com.

NATIONAL RANKING

28th: South Carolina's national ranking for average teacher pay in 2004

33rd: South Carolina's national ranking for average teacher pay in 2006