Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Press conference brings attention to educator salaries

When was the last time you saw The State and the Charleston Post & Courier publish stories about restoring educator salaries, on the same day?

Both are trailing the Charleston City Paper by a day, but better late than never. Nothing beats a trend, and news of this one may reach the Upstate by this evening or tomorrow.

The spark for this feeding frenzy by the media is a press conference held just a couple of hours ago at the State House, featuring fourth-grader teacher Patrick Hayes of Charleston. Hayes initiated the online petition -- at the advice of his wife, we've now learned -- in frustration at having his salary frozen for four years. Hayes previously taught in California, where he was a member of an educators union, and where educators are accustomed to organizing in support of their interests.

Thanks to that experience, Hayes is a motivated fellow.

Hayes used a fellow teacher, Lindsey Egloft, as an example. Egloft said she makes $36,679 teaching fifth grade at Drayton Hall Elementary. According to the salary schedule or her district -- given the credits she has earned in a Master’s degree program -- Egloft said she should be making $38,050.

Next year, with lawmakers’ 2 percent raise, Egloft said she would be making $37,360.
“I’m going to stop talking about this issue when I’m being paid the salary I was promised when I took the job,” Hayes said.

A pretty pithy summary of the press conference, according to non-media sources who were there. Still, it's coverage. Maybe a later iteration will offer more detail of the dialogue between Hayes and Egloft.

The Post & Courier published a bit more background in its report:

His online petition, Restore Teacher Salaries, has amassed nearly 7,000 signatures since he posted it about a month ago, and his goal is to reach 20,000.

"There's a huge well of resentment about the way teachers have taken the brunt of the state's mismanaged finances," Hayes said.

South Carolina has seen a 24.1 percent drop in per-pupil spending from 2008 to 2012, which is the biggest decrease of any state, according to the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Hayes, a married father of two, isn't one of the district's well-known teacher leaders, but he stays informed on local and statewide issues.

When he heard about the governor's "inflammatory" budget proposal -- which would decrease education funding by nearly $80 million despite a statewide surplus -- he said he felt compelled to act.

Hayes wrote emails to lawmakers and encouraged his co-workers to do the same, and his wife suggested an online petition. He told fewer than 100 people about it, but support grew fast.

"It's the nature of the cuts we've seen the last few years," Hayes said.

Lawmakers have slashed the funds that go to school districts, and they've given local education officials permission to ignore the salary schedule that dictates what teachers are supposed to be paid.

In Charleston, that has meant teachers haven't had a cost-of-living adjustment in three years or a step increase for additional experience in two years.

"It's the only career advancement we have unless we leave teaching and become administrators," Hayes said. "It's not a lot of money, but it's something that's going to happen every year and makes life a little easier."

Charleston County Superintendent Nancy McGinley has said giving teachers the pay they deserve is her No. 1 budget priority, and Hayes said some teachers plan to focus their advocacy on the local school board.

Hayes knows that part of the challenge is raising awareness, and he said a lot will have been accomplished if teachers' salaries can be restored in one year.

"It will take a combination of the state spending more money and districts prioritizing it," he said. "Most people have no idea that this has been going on, but when they hear about it, they want to help."

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