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Schools: Making teacher pay competitive may require tax increase

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

School district employees are due to get a 2 percent average raise under a budget presented to the Georgetown County Board of Education this week. But Superintendent Randy Dozier thinks more needs to be done to make teacher salaries competitive with nearby districts, even if that means a tax increase.

The starting salary for teachers in Horry County is about $4,000 more a year and several teachers who have resigned recently are headed north, Dozier said. “You can’t continue to lose good people because you are lagging behind,” he told the board.

Dozier said afterward that he expects to recommend an increase above this year’s step in pay grades for professional staff. “We need 3 to 4 percent, but that’s just to catch up,” he said.

The cost of the proposed 2 percent raises in the draft budget is $1.2 million. The district’s operating budget is $80.5 million of which $70.3 million is for salaries and benefits. Dozier said the salary issue is complicated by benefits, which account for 40 percent of employee costs. As an example, the loss of state funding mean the district cut two positions for science coaches. Those were worth about $200,000. Although the coaches don’t see $100,000 in their take-home pay, the district sees it the salaries, health and retirement benefits.

The district expects to get additional property tax revenue and additional state funding, but those aren’t enough to cover the cost of pay increases. And changes in the way the state funds education could end up shifting costs to the district in coming years. The district has already seen cuts in funds for professional development, said Patti Hammel, the district director of student performance.

“We need to do more than a step increase,” Dozier said. “That might require a millage increase. The last time we did one was 2010.”

He noted that Georgetown County raised taxes for employee pay last year, an effort that began when Midway Fire and Rescue complained it was losing trained staff to nearby agencies. “You’ve got to stay competitive,” Dozier said.

The school board this week voted to raise Dozier’s salary to $165,000 through the end of his contract in 2017. That’s a 5.8 percent increase. He said he couldn’t remember when it was raised last.

“I don’t really ask for more money. It’s what they think the job is worth,” he said.

Although districts in Horry, Charleston and Berkeley counties all pay more, “I’m happy where I am,” Dozier said. “They’ve treated me nice since the beginning.”

He came to the district in 1999 as deputy superintendent and became superintendent in 2004 at a salary of $125,000 a year.

The nine-member school board gave Dozier a 4.7 on a 5-point scale in his annual evaluation of 13 skill areas. That’s considered “outstanding.” He had perfect scores for “adaptability” and “disposition,” and 4.9 for “job knowledge,” “quality of work” and “initiative.”

His lowest score was a 4.4 for “fiscal management.” While still considered outstanding, he wasn’t sure how the score was reached. “I think that’s why I got the job,” Dozier said, he recalled the district was $3.5 million in the red when he took over. Board members have praised his efforts to maintain a reserve while improving the district credit rating through the Great Recession.

Dozier said he hasn’t talked with the board about the score. “I guess it’s a low outstanding,” he said.

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