Last Thursday, the S.C. Legislature approved a budget for 2012-2013 that included a requirement for increased teacher salaries. In the previous two years' budgets, the state dropped its requirement that school districts give teachers automatic annual salary increases, but the current budget brings back that mandate. The budget is now awaiting approval from Gov. Nikki Haley, who has until Thurs. July 5 to approve the budget or make any vetoes.
The $6.7 billion budget sets aside $48 million for school districts to increase teachers' pay by 2 percent. It also provides an additional $153 million in funding for schools, and it requires all districts to give teachers credit for the previous year's worth of experience. Step increases are based on each district's salary schedule, which raises a teacher's salary for every year of experience up to 30 years.
Haley has not said what she intends to approve and veto within the budget. The governor's first executive budget, released in January, included no pay raises for state employees and would have cut $76 million from a funding stream within the Department of Education that helps pay teacher salaries.
Charleston County School District was one of 17 districts that decided to nix teacher salary step increases for both of the last two years, but it recently voted to catch teachers up on their salaries. At a June 25 meeting, where the school board voted to approve two years' worth of step increases and a 2-percent cost-of-living increase for teachers, Chief Financial and Operations Officer Michael Bobby said the decision to halt the step increases for two years had temporarily saved the district $20.5 million. Meanwhile, the nearby Berkeley County and Dorchester 2 school districts had stopped the step increases for 2010-2011 but resumed them in 2011-2012.
"Many of you have been paying attention to what the state is struggling with in terms of the state's budget," Bobby said at the meeting. "We are proposing and strongly suggesting that, regardless of what the state does, we need to go forward and establish what we're going to do with our budget ... When the state finalizes their budget, should it require us to amend ours, we will come back and do so."
Under the proposed state budget, a school district can opt out of providing the required additional step increase, but it has to apply to the State Board of Education for an exemption and prove that the pay raise would create a budget deficit.
According to the Associated Press, the budget also provides for the first salary increase in four years for state workers, with a 3-percent raise for most employees and a 5-percent raise for law enforcement officers who make less than $50,000.
Under the version of the bill approved by the Legislature, the teacher salary increase applies to classroom teachers, librarians, guidance counselors, psychologists, social workers, occupational and physical therapists, school nurses, orientation and mobility instructors, and audiologists in school districts across the state.
Patrick Hayes, a fourth-grade teacher at Drayton Hall Elementary School, started a petition on SignOn.org in February asking the Legislature to restore teacher salary increases. He says he used the mailing-list function on SignOn to encourage the 9,000-plus petitioners to call their state senators and representatives. "Right in the middle of it," Hayes says, "one of my members called me and said, 'I talked to my senator, and he said he's ready to do more for us, but [Florence Sen.] Hugh Leatherman is lining up votes to keep us at 2 percent.' So I sent another e-mail and said, 'Everybody needs to call Hugh Leatherman tomorrow.' They did, and we ended up with an amendment that gave us the step increase back."
Hayes says he is pleased with the outcome. "The only threat left would be if Nikki Haley vetoed it," he says.