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Education: Pay for school employees will rise in October

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

After two years without a pay raise, the 1,400 employees of Georgetown County School District will see larger paychecks in October. The school board this week adopted raises that will average 2 percent for all employees.

The raises will cost the district $750,000 to $800,000, according to Lisa Johnson, the district finance director. That’s less than initial estimates and should be covered by an increase in state funding included in the budget passed by the General Assembly in June.

Johnson said she won’t know the actual cost of the raises until she has completed a spreadsheet of all the district’s employees.

The district delayed a pay increase in its 2012 budget because of uncertainty over state funding. Superintendent Randy Dozier said the pay raise was well-deserved, but he didn’t want to draw on the district’s $8.2 million reserve to help fund it because the reserve will help the district get a better interest rate when it refinances some of its outstanding debt.

“That has impacted our bond rating,” he said.

Based on the average pay for the district’s 640 teachers, the pay raise will be worth about $800. The plan adopted by the board this week moved eligible employees up one step on the pay scale and gives a 2 percent increase to employees who aren’t on a pay scale.

The raise is effective Oct. 14, and isn’t retroactive to the start of the year. So for teachers and other employees whose contracts begin in August, the annual raise will average 1.75 percent. For administrators and employees whose contracts begin July 1, the annual raise averages 1.5 percent.

The average administrator’s salary is $81,000 a year. The pay raise will be applied to the salary earned after Oct. 14, or $60,750. So it will average $1,215.

This year’s pay raises will set the base salaries for the 2013 budget, Johnson said. But the district won’t have to increase pay by the full 2 percent next year, according to the district’s lawyers.

Georgetown County gave employees a one-time bonus, but the district couldn’t do that because state law doesn’t allow districts to cut teacher pay.

If there isn’t another pay raise next year, employees could actually see their paychecks decrease as this year’s raise is spread out over 12 months, Johnson said.

And there’s another caveat.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen with health insurance,” she said.

The state is considering a play to require a larger employee contribution to health insurance premiums, said Marthena Grate Morant, the district’s human resources director.

“We could end up giving half of it back,” she said of the pay increase.

But after two years with no increase, she said the district’s raises have had an effect on morale. Dozier announced the plan to bus drivers at an orientation session earlier this week. “They were excited,” Morant said.

The district saw 36 employees leave at the end of the last school year. She said exit interviews show about 30 percent of resignations are due to employees leaving for better pay elsewhere.

Some left this year for Horry County, which also raised pay, she said. Other economic factors come into play, she said, such as the length of commute between school and home.

This was the first year the district hasn’t done any recruiting. It didn’t offer a signing bonus, either. But school began Wednesday without a single teaching vacancy in the district, Morant said.

“They sought after us,” she said.

Despite cuts to the district’s $69.5 million operating budget, the district was able to find a position for every employee who stayed. The district retained over 91 percent of its teachers, Morant said.

And the pay raises can only help. “It’s been a long time,” she said.

The board approved the recommendation unanimously and without discussion or comment.

“The recommendation is approved. God bless,” said Vice Chairman Arthur Lance, who filled in for Chairman Jim Dumm who had a death in the family.

It’s unclear whether the pay raise will apply to the nine board members, Johnson said.

“Normally, they don’t give themselves a pay raise,” she said, but the recommendation wasn’t clear on that point. “They will have to take action whether theirs is included or not.”

That will be brought up in September, Johnson said.

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