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Budgets: Schools hope to follow county in slowing turnover

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Turnover had reached about 25 percent at Midway Fire and Rescue before Georgetown County adopted the first in a series of pay raises last year. In the first quarter of this year, “we had no turnover whatsoever,” Fire Chief Doug Eggiman said.

Though driven by public concern for turnover in emergency services, the pay raises have also improved retention and hiring in other county departments, said Greg Troutman, the county human resources director. But he said the Midway result “is a very big deal.”

The Georgetown County School Board this week gave final approval to a budget that raises pay for teachers and other district staff by an average of 3 percent. That’s 1 percent more than the state-mandated step increases, and it will be funded through a 2.1 mill tax increase.

The move also raises the pay scale for teachers.

Owner-occupied homes aren’t taxed for school operations, so the increase will be paid by commercial property owners and taxes on personal property such as cars and boats.

Superintendent Randy Dozier said it will take several years to close the gap in pay between Georgetown County teachers and those in nearby districts, which a study by the district put at about $4,000.

The district’s turnover rate among over 1,300 employees was less than 3 percent last year, but Dozier said the resignations came in key areas such as math, science and special education where replacements are hard to find. “These are critical, core areas where there aren’t any candidates,” he said.

Like teachers, public safety workers have certifications that readily transfer. But county government also felt the loss in less visible areas. “We lost a couple of appraisers to neighboring counties during our pay freeze,” Troutman said. Both the county and school district froze pay during the Great Recession. The county recently hired an appraiser from Spartanburg County, he said.

Sheriff Lane Cribb said his office is currently fully staff. “It’s catching us up. We’re better off,” he said of the pay raises. “I haven’t heard lately of people leaving for money.”

In addition to keeping trained staff, Midway Fire and Rescue has also seen an improvement in hiring. “We’ve actually had some come to us from neighboring departments,” Eggiman said. “They still took a pay cut, but that shows it’s not all about pay.”

The county started raising pay in January 2014 and raised taxes by 1 mill last year to continue the raises through 2016. Eggiman said two former Midway firefighters who had gone to work in Mount Pleasant returned after the pay plan took effect.

Dozier hopes the school district raises will have a similar impact. He agreed there are other factors beyond pay that influence retention and recruitment.

“One thing they come back for is class size,” he said. “The extra money may not be worth it if you have twice the number of students.”

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