Monday, July 25, 2011

Other states' retirees are welcome, but not our own, in Horry

We've all heard that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

That's what came to mind after reading an item in the Myrtle Beach Sun-News about a new policy to purge the Horry County School District's central office of its at-will employees. Maybe the intention is noble -- the superintendent says the move will open up advancement opportunities for others -- but something smells very bad about the policy's fine print.

To be clear, this only affects the Horry central office, according to the news report. And it only affects those at-will employees who have retired and returned to work.

At-will employees are those who are drawing retirement in South Carolina and have returned to work without the legal entitlement a contract gives for guaranteed employment. Most at the district office fall under the Teacher and Employee Retention Incentive, or TERI program.

Some see this as a way to prevent "double-dipping" -- in fact, the Sun-News said so in its headline.

Others say it's about saving money. Apparently, secretaries who have worked for 30 years at the central office make a ton of money.

Board Chairman Will Garland said most board members see the move as a cost savings, which could be 40 to 50 percent - paying someone substantially less than $100,000 a year. "It did not apply to at-will teachers or custodians or bus drivers - that's not the people we're concerned about," Garland said. "It's the ones at or approaching six-figure salaries, where we have some fairly high-paid executives."

Elsberry contends that cost savings would be minimal because at the district level, salaries have to be competitive to attract the talent needed to run the state's third-largest school district, as opposed to teacher salaries, which are set by the state.

"I want somebody who is a proven entity, who can get the job done without a lot of training," Elsberry said of hires in administration.

So, either it is about saving money, or it isn't about saving money; this isn't very clear because Horry's leaders seem not to be speaking from the same talking points.

What is perfectly clear is that the policy is inherently unfair in one really glaring way: Employees who retired from North Carolina or some other state, moved to Horry County and have been hired at the central office are completely unaffected. In fact, once those employees have served in their position through the probationary period, they get a continuing contract and can negotiate a pretty hefty wage.

The district has hired employees who have retired from school districts in other states; after successfully completing one year of employment, S.C. law allows for those employees to be put on a continuing contract and given credit for their previous experience.

So let's play this out in two scenarios.

In scenario one, I retired in 2005 after working 30 years for the district office of Brunswick County, North Carolina, just across the border from Horry County. In fact, I still live in Brunswick County -- in a pretty little condo community in Carolina Shores -- and drive 45 minutes to work every day at the Horry County district office. After my first year of working here, Horry County gave me full credit for my 30 years in North Carolina, so I was able to collect a salary based on my three decades-plus experience. Truly, I live in the catbird's seat, drawing a very healthy retirement check from North Carolina -- because North Carolina's state lawmakers have always honored their commitment to keep a healthy retirement system -- and earning a nice salary in South Carolina while earning credit in its retirement system, too. This new policy adopted by the Horry school board doesn't affect me at all, and I get to continue working here for as long as I want.

In scenario two, I retired in 2005 after 30 years of working for the district office in Horry County. Then, I came right back to work as an at-will employee -- meaning that I have no contract and no rights because South Carolina has been a right-to-work-for-less state since 1954 -- and I've been toiling away, doing my part for the children of Horry County. As a result of the new policy adopted by the Horry school board, I'm now out of a job -- so much for loyalty and dedication -- and am dependent solely on my state retirement benefits, which are stingy and meager because South Carolina's lawmakers fight tooth-and-nail to avoid strengthening that system and, in fact, do all they can to weaken it.

The moral of the policy seems to be that if you retired elsewhere and came to work in Horry, you're a very valuable employee; but if you retired in South Carolina and wanted to continue working, you're a drag on the system and you're blocking others from climbing their career ladder.

Does this sound fair to you?


  1. I am one of those retired teachers (not on TERI) still loving it and wanting to work. I am National Board Certified and have been a Teacher Specialist for the State of SC. How much better qualified does it get?

  2. Anonymous, if you'll send a guest column reflecting your thoughts and feelings -- and those of others in your situation -- about this policy, I'll publish it here.

  3. I love this article. I was dismissed from my job as a teacher because I had finished the TERI program. NO ONE from the DO who had finished TERI was dismissed and not a one of those folks have any contact with students in our district.

    When our superintendent stated he would make decisions that would be the best for the children he LIED...letting dedicated teachers go and keeping workers that have no dealing with students is NOT doing what is best for our students.

  4. I am a retired Texas teacher, but have worked in three different states, and I can tell you that the problem you have here is common in all four of the states where I taught. ALL places of employment in the US say they want expertise and experience but are not at all willing to pay more for it. I am now more employable than ever as I need no benefits and can work flexible hours but now I really don't want to work.