Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Media buzz fails to drum up support for teacher's petition

Posted by Paul Bowers on Tue, Mar 6, 2012 at 1:24 PM

Last week, we introduced you to Patrick Hayes, a fourth-grade teacher at Drayton Hall Elementary School who traveled to the State House rotunda in Columbia to speak alongside House Minority Leader Harry Ott about the need to restore South Carolina teachers' annual pay increases.

Hayes started an online petition about the issue in early February, and as of Feb. 28, the day before his press conference in the state capital, that petition had garnered about 6,900 votes. One week later, after this and a few other media outlets around the state picked up the story (and the Post and Courier ran a letter to the editor by Hayes), the total is about 8,200. In other words, for the first four weeks after its creation, the petition got about 1,725 votes a week, without the benefit of press coverage. After the press conference and resulting media attention, the figure for the past week actually decreased to just 1,300 votes.

So much for the power of the press.

Hayes had this to say in an e-mail about his experience:

It's interesting. I was very focused on generating media attention to drive traffic to the petition.

I was disappointed when we got so few cameras (and teachers) there. The funny thing is, the mentions that we did get are not really moving the petition numbers yet. Not anything like they were going to in my fevered imagination.

So, we're there talking to two dozen people who already agree with us, to reach an audience that isn't really going to take action, on behalf of people who aren't really willing to do a whole lot more than click on a petition.

So I'm thinking, fiasco.

Then it hits me. Through this press conference, we got Rep. Ott personally involved and pushing the issue forward in a very specific and attainable way. That's not bad at all.

Who needs a plan?

Hayes' essential argument in approaching the legislature was that, when he started working for Charleston County School District six years ago, he was shown a chart explaining how much he would be paid based on how many years of experience he accumulated. The district has decided not to give the raises for the past two years (thanks to tight budgets and a temporary suspension of the state law requiring the increases), so Hayes figures he is owed not only a pay raise for the upcoming 2012-2013 school year, but two years' worth of back pay for the missed increases.

You can see him making his plea here:

"They told me that the mic would not be amplified and the space had an echo, so I needed to speak up and articulate each word slowly and clearly," Hayes says. "The result is kind of cringe-inducing. My wife was merciless in her mockery. That is her right, as I have not been very useful around the house the last few weeks."

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