HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Horry County School board members voted to approve a budget item giving themselves a raise Monday night.
The board voted to raise their yearly salaries to the same amount Horry County Council members make. The raise will become official when the Horry County Schools budget is approved.
Horry County Schools Board Chairman Joe Defeo, who told WMBF News last month that he makes 20 percent more than the rest of the board, will receive a bump in pay of over $5,000. The rest of the board will receive an increase from $9,600 a year to nearly $16,000, Defeo said. This would make Horry County school members the highest-paid in the state, Defeo confirmed, adding: "I think the other boards should raise their pay but that's up to them. I don't know what they do."
Three board members opposed the measure, which would directly tie school board members' salaries to county council member salaries, including raises council members get in the future.
"When I was actually running for the election I talked to a lot of the support staff and other people, and some of them did not get raises recently. I cannot in good conscience vote for a raise when the people I elected expected me to look out for the people that need help," said board member Chris Hardwick. "I cannot give myself a raise. I haven't earned a raise. I haven't done anything for a raise. For those who have done a lot for many many years, I might feel differently. When you put in all of the hours and all of the headaches that you go through, it's really not for the compensation."
Defeo said that he believes the board is crucial to the district's success and the work it does is as important as that of the Horry County Council. In the past, he said members showed up at the board meeting and maybe "handled a few phone calls."
"It just doesn't work that way anymore," he said.
Reasons Defeo cited for why the board deserves a raise include meetings for committees the members weren't involved with years ago, phone calls, text messages and driving to events.
"I started at 7:30 in the morning and I did nothing but board work all day long. That was answering questions and getting back on some issues that parents had. That was talking about some facilities. That was doing some meetings," Defeo said after the budget retreat. "What happens is it just interferes with everything you do every day. We could be an aristocratic position where only people who are retired and can afford to be on the board."
At a meeting last month, board member David Cox noted the individual members' responsibilities have changed since August 2007, which was the last time the school board got a raise.
"This new format is helping us all to be informed," Cox said at the meeting. "By the same token, it is quite time consuming."
Defeo said that board members sometimes work for 10 to 15 hours per week, but other times, they work 30 hours a week.
"The job, although technically not full time, is so time consuming that you couldn't work a regular job and do it," Defeo said last month.
Other items discussed during the Monday budget retreat included bringing additional English to Speakers of Other Languages teachers, sign-on bonuses for teachers in positions that are in critical need, and additional staff members for new schools.
School board members are also looking at giving eligible employees STEP raises based on cost of living and years of experience and then two percent raises to employees who have reached the top tier of the payscale.
The proposed budget has a $10 million deficit right now, but DeFeo said those are usually made up by the time the budget is finalized. He said state funding hasn't been accounted for and the district has $90 million in the bank.