SC county's teachers get raise after tax hike approved

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Teachers in Greenville County Schools will be paid a starting salary of $40,000 — the highest out of any school district in South Carolina — after school board members unanimously approved a 6-mill tax increase.

Under the $668.4 million budget, teachers would get a 5% to 10% raise and reduced class sizes while adding counselors at the middle and high school levels. Also included is a minimum 4% salary increase for support personnel, including principals, nurses and aides and district-level administrators.

The tax increase would generate about $8.1 million and affect local bills for vehicles and businesses but not owner-occupied homes, The Greenville News reported. Officials said under the budget, the owner of a $10,000 vehicle would pay $3.60 more a year while the owner of a $100,000 business would pay $31.68 more annually.

"Very seldom have I ever voted for millage increase," school board member Lynda Leventis-Wells said before making a motion to approve the budget. "But I want these people to get what they so deserve."

Board member Crystal Ball O'Connor called the increase a "modest amount" beyond what the state had recommended to account for growth and inflation.

The budget represents a $47.8 million, or 7.7% increase, from the current year's $620.2 million budget. The increase in expenditures includes $24.7 million to pay for state-mandated increases for teacher salaries and benefits and $2.7 million for an additional 73.5 positions to ensure every teacher has a 30-minute planning period each day.

Those employees will be "qualified instructional support personnel," not certified teachers, Greenville County Schools Superintendent Burke Royster said.

Shelley Smith, a teacher at Travelers Rest High School and a finalist for South Carolina Teacher of the Year, was one of three educators who spoke in support of the budget Tuesday. She said the raises will make the district more competitive to attract top-quality teachers and is a "positive step toward elevating the teaching profession as a whole."

Matt Boone, a teacher at Northwood Middle School said, "At my school there are a dozen teachers can't make ends meet. They work second and third jobs... are highly qualified and have master's degrees. The budget proposal helps rectify some of these problems."

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Information from: The Greenville News, http://www.greenvillenews.com