Group of HCS teachers will travel to Columbia to lobby for raises, reform

Group of HCS teachers will travel to Columbia to lobby for raises, reform
Horry County Schools has been out since September 12. (SOURCE: WMBF News)

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - A group of Horry County Schools teachers will join a group of teachers lobbying South Carolina lawmakers for higher pay.

SC for Ed, a statewide group comprised of 20,000 teachers, will leave their classrooms, wear red clothes and ask lawmakers for major reforms to the state’s public education system, including better compensation.

A starting salary for a teacher in South Carolina is about $32,000.

Read the teacher’s full story below.

This story courtesy of our news partners at MyHorryNews.com

Carolina Forest Elementary School kindergarten teacher Cori Shuford said it seemed appropriate to be talking about her profession on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“We kind of have a dream here,” she said Monday. "We want people to hear us and see us and respect us. He didn’t sit quietly, and we’re not going to sit quietly anymore."

Shuford is part of SC for Ed, a statewide group comprised of 20,000 teachers that is encouraging South Carolina educators to take a day off work, wear red clothes, and join them at the S.C. Statehouse on Jan. 29 for the SC for Ed Money Matters Lobby Day.

SC for Ed wants major reforms to the state's public education system, including better compensation.

A starting salary for a teacher in South Carolina is about $32,000. Last week, Gov. Henry McMaster proposed spending $155 million to give all S.C. public school teachers a 5 percent raise. He said that raise would bring the average S.C. teacher salary to $355 above the average for Southeastern states.

Kendra Pennington, who teaches eighth grade special education at Myrtle Beach Middle School, said that isn’t enough.

“A 5 percent raise puts us at the southeast’s average, but 20 percent would put us at the national average,” Pennington said. “We can’t keep teachers in the classroom. If we want to keep good teachers in the classroom, we’ve got to be competitive. We’re pushing for 10 percent in 2019 and 20 percent by 2020.”

SC for Ed said that their goal is for South Carolina teachers to be paid on the national average.

“Our request is that by adding 20 percent to the Educational Finance Act funding allocations for educator pay, we restore the promise of education in South Carolina, and remind our children that they are our most important natural resource,” SC for Ed said on the group's Facebook page.

Shuford said she adores her job, and does what she knows is right for her children in the classroom, giving them the individual attention they need. She said when she first started teaching 10 years ago, teachers did not have the amount of responsibilities they have now.

“Teachers everywhere now have way more responsibility than what we really probably should,” Shuford said. “The pay has not increased … [In conjunction with] cost of living increases, we make less than we did five or six years ago.”

Pennington said that when she began teaching four years ago, it was already well known that in S.C. teachers weren't paid well.

“The gap between the amount of work I do versus what I get paid [is considerable],” Pennington said. “I didn’t see myself having to get a second job, but after my second year of teaching, I did. I wasn’t expecting as drastic of a gap.”

Shuford has two other jobs in addition to her classroom work to make ends meet.

Jen Hodges, an art teacher at Carolina Forest High School, had a goal of earning her doctorate degree by the time she was 35.

Rounding the corner to her 36th birthday, she said that isn’t quite happening.

The money she would spend to obtain the degree would be more than what her new salary would be to make up the difference.

“I did the math,” she said. "I would not be making money on the doctorate until two years after my retirement … I wouldn’t start seeing the profit."

It shouldn’t be that way, Shuford said.

“If we want to further our education, we should be compensated for it,” Shuford said.

Not only is salary an issue, but teachers say a lack of respect and understanding for their job is another challenge.

“It’s a combination of where we are as a society,” Hodges said. “If the people writing our paychecks don’t take us seriously, why isn’t anyone else? We’re not just teaching what our subject matter is. We’re teaching social skills, life skills in every class.”

It is well-known that teachers have summers and school breaks off, but some think teachers have it made with “all that vacation.”

Shuford, Pennington, and Hodges all agree that the “time off” isn’t usually what people think.

Shuford said it takes her up to three weeks to set up her new classroom for the fall, and some teachers write lesson plans, tutor over the summer, go to school to work on an advanced degree, or continue their second jobs in order to make ends meet.

Pennington said that statewide there seems to be a disconnect between the teachers “with their boots on the ground doing the dirty work, versus the people in charge of making the rules.”

Shuford hopes that teachers in Horry County will join them in Columbia.

“They won’t listen if three people show up,” she said. "Take a personal day. We matter. Walk around and talk to legislators.”

SC for Ed encourages teachers to set up appointments with state lawmakers to discuss the importance of budgeting salary increases and boosting funding for schools.

The SC for Ed tent will be set up by 9 a.m., and will be there all day.

“Some teachers I know are taking it as a sick day, and saying they are sick of not being compensated, and sick of not being respected,” Pennington said.

Shuford, Pennington and Hodges also participate in the Red for Ed movement by wearing the color red each Wednesday. It’s for two reasons, Shuford said.

One is that it is a conversation starter, she said, and also that they want the state department to know that teachers are listening and paying attention.

“The more photos they see [on social media], the more they see we aren’t going to sit quietly,” Shuford. "We’re standing up. As a whole through the state, I think we [teachers] are becoming a bit more brave. There’s power in numbers.”

Pennington hopes for a large crowd next week.

“We want them to see a sea of red,” Pennington said.

Copyright 2019 WMBF. All rights reserved.