At a budget meeting with the Charleston County school board Monday, Superintendent Nancy McGinley laid out two priorities: giving raises to teachers and creating an extended school year at struggling schools.
Ordinarily, Charleston County teachers receive an automatic pay raise every year to compensate for the rising cost of living, but for the past two years, under a tightened budget, the district has withheld the step increases. McGinley said she wanted to catch up on the previous two years' missed increases, at an estimated cost of $12.2 million for the first year.
"After years of salary freezes and budget cuts, our teachers — talented, mission-driven professionals — deserve to have their salaries restored," McGinley said. "They have worked incredibly hard to achieve victory in the classroom, and I'm going to do whatever I can to keep them on our team and ensure they're paid what they deserve."
The lack of pay increases has been a sore point for teachers, but other points have yet to be addressed. In a district-wide survey conducted by the Charleston Teacher Alliance in November 2011, 37 percent of teachers said their class size had increased since the previous year, and 94 percent said class size affected instructional quality. About half of the teachers reported a classroom size in the 21-to-30 range.
Another theme from the survey was a fear of reprimand for being sick or absent, especially in light of a new policy that cuts down on schools' budgets for hiring subs and requires some teachers to take on students from their sick co-workers' classrooms. In the survey, 66 percent of teachers said they had to significantly increase their hours to get everything done, 78 percent wanted after-school meetings to be limited to one hour or less, and many wrote that their paperwork load had gotten "out of control."
McGinley also called on Monday for a mandatory 20-day summer semester for the struggling schools in the district's Innovation Zone, where Associate Superintendent James Winbush has been assigned to supervise the school administrations. McGinley has said before that extended or year-round schools could help bring Spanish-speaking students up to speed on their English skills. Teachers at a meeting in December told her that some students had gone for an entire summer without hearing or speaking English at home.
"Many families struggle to have anything educational in the summer," McGinley said.
The schools in the Innovation Zone are:
• Burns Elementary
• Chicora School of Communications
• Dunston Primary
• Hursey Elementary
• James Simons Elementary
• Mary Ford Elementary
• Midland Park Primary
• North Charleston Elementary
• Pinehurst Elementary
• Sanders-Clyde Elementary
• Morningside ARMS Boys' Academy
• Morningside EXCEL Girls' Academy
• Baptist Hill Middle/High
• North Charleston High