'Sad day' for schools: York County losing teachers due to changes in S.C. program

Retire or not retire? That is the $10,000 question for this principal.

Rock HIll principal Seberina Myles has been teaching in the South Carolina school system for 33 years. Because of the loss of the TERI plan, Myles can make only $10,000 if she wants to continue working.
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Rock HIll principal Seberina Myles has been teaching in the South Carolina school system for 33 years. Because of the loss of the TERI plan, Myles can make only $10,000 if she wants to continue working.

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After 29 years working as an educator, Chris Beard, principal of Ebenezer Aveneue Elementary School in Rock Hill, is going to become a real estate agent.

Beard, 52, is not alone. A popular state program, which has kept many seasoned teachers in the classroom past retirement eligibility, is ending June 30. And when it does, about 2,000 educators could decide to leave, according to state officials.

“It’s a sad day for South Carolina school systems," Beard said. "We’ve invested a lot in the training of teachers and principals that will now go to other districts and states.”

The program – called the Teacher and Employee Retention Incentive, or TERI – will end June 30, affecting the jobs of about 6,630 retirement-aged state employees, about half of them teachers, according to the state’s Public Employee Benefit Authority.

TERI allowed state workers to retire, but to continue working for a limited period. In the interim, their monthly retirement benefits were deposited into a special account for up to five years.

When TERI ends, former participants can return to work for the state as working retirees. However, a state law says working retirees cannot collect retirement benefits if they are paid $10,000 or more by a state job.

Beard said that is one reason why he is pursuing a different career.

Beard retired last summer, but continued working in Rock Hill under TERI. Beard taught with the Rock Hill district for 10 years, was an assistant principal for two years and has been a principal for 17 years. He said he is leaving education at the end of this school year.

“I don’t think we’re going to realize the full effect that ending TERI and the $10,000 cap will have until August of next year, when we realize the number of teachers and administrators across our state who are going to be forced to leave the profession,” Beard said.

York, Chester and Lancaster county school districts may lose teachers and administrators when the TERI program ends. As of July 1, 2017, the most recent numbers available from the S.C. benefit authority, Chester County schools had 30 TERI participants, including teachers and administrators. Chester County employed 374 teachers during the 2016-17 school year, according the S.C. Department of Education.

Lancaster County employed 830 teachers in 2017 and had 46 TERI participants. The Clover school district, which employed 534 teachers in '16-'17, had 29 employees participating in TERI.

The Rock Hill school district has at least 36 people who will be affected, of which 32 people have already indicated they are not coming back next school year, according to the district. Rock Hill employes about 1,340 teachers and 105 administrators.

Fort Mill has about 12 employees that could be impacted by the end of TERI, said Joe Burke, district spokesperson. Fort Mill employs about 1,050 teachers and 70 administrators.

In York, 17 teachers are affected by the end of the program and the salary cap, said Tim Cooper, district spokesperson. Of those, eight have so far decided not to return next school year. York has about 368 teachers teachers and about 60 media specialists, school counselors and administrators.

“Any time a teacher retires or leaves the profession, it impacts the qualified teacher pool count,” Cooper said. “However, we have not experienced a shortage of qualified applicants with any open position in York 1 for school year '18-'19. We continue to interview and offer contracts as is normal for this time of year.”

Beard said York County districts may see teachers and administrators leave for North Carolina, where the earnings cap is not in place.

“They can go there to teach and serve as principals with no financial consequences,” Beard said.

However, employees who retired before Jan. 2, 2013 are not affected by the $10,000 earning cap.

That has kept Janet Morris, teacher support specialist for Rock Hill schools, working after she retired from 28 years of teaching and spent five years working under TERI.

Now in her tenth year as a support specialist, Morris, 57, said she has been able to share her expertise with teachers and help them through their first few years.

“I love what I do,” she said. “I had the privilege of watching many teachers grow and develop.”

Morris said TERI ending and the earning cap hurts education.

“It’s sad that the legislature has made that ruling,” she said. “We’re losing teachers.”

'Teacher Shortage Crisis'

South Carolina is already struggling with finding and keeping teachers, said Kathy Maness with the South Carolina Palmetto State Teachers Association.

“We are in a teacher shortage crisis,” Maness said. “We’re very concerned about what is going to happen in our schools next year.”

Maness said roughly 1,684 students graduated from S.C. colleges last year with teaching degrees, compared to 6,700 South Carolina teachers who left their jobs the same year.

Tanya Campbell, chief personnel officer for the Rock Hill school district, said Rock Hill sees more teachers leaving jobs than there are certified graduates across the state to fill them.

“We’re not producing as many teachers per year as we are exiting,” Campbell said. “We’re not finding enough people who want to pursue education."

South Carolina’s school districts are hiring fewer teachers from in-state teacher preparation programs, according to the S.C. Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement. The number of hires from those sources has declined by 25 percent since 2012-13 because fewer students in the state are graduating with a bachelor’s degree eligible for teacher certification.

“Districts had no way of knowing there was going to be a 30 percent decrease in the number of people going into education,” Maness said. “I blame the state for not making education an attractive career and one people can raise a family on.”

By the Numbers

  • About 6,700 South Carolina teachers left their jobs during or at the end of the 2016-17 school year. Of those, about 4,900 teachers are no longer teaching in a public school in the state.

  • Of the teachers who left in 2016-17, excluding those who went to another South Carolina district, 35 percent had five or fewer years of experience and 12 percent were in their first year.

  • Of first-year teachers who were hired for the 2016-17 school year, 22 percent left their positions by the end of that year and are no longer teaching in any public school district in the state.

  • South Carolina public school districts reported 550 teaching position vacancies at the start of 2017-18, a 16 percent increase compared to 2016-17.

Information compiled from the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement

Amanda Harris: 803-329-4082
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