Greenville legislators listen during a town hall on education reform on March 28 at Wade Hampton High School.

Teachers implored Greenville legislators to increase salaries, reduce testing, and take another look at South Carolina’s Read to Succeed Act at a town hall meeting Thursday night at Wade Hampton High School.

The meeting was likely the last of a series of town hall sessions this year across the state to discuss bills in the Statehouse aimed at reforming education.

H.3759 in the state House of Representatives was passed over to the Senate on March 7, but Sen. Ross Turner, R-Greenville, said it is unlikely the Senate version will be passed in time to make it back to the House floor and debated again before the legislative session ends in May.

This year is the first of a two-year legislative session in South Carolina, meaning any legislation that isn’t heard this year can be heard next year without being refiled.

Sen. Ross Turner

“I think we’ll have a finished bill out of the committee, but whether we get it voted on and passed over back to the House before the end of the session — I don’t know,” Turner said.

Turner said some of the major issues teachers have brought up will likely be addressed outside of the education reform bill, such as teacher pay. The House Ways and Means Committee has a 4 percent pay increase for teachers in its proposed budget.

“We’ll address the pay raises in the budget, and I think that will be a good first step,” Turner said. “But I do think teachers would rather us get it right than speed it up.”

Turner said the Senate version of the bill — S.419 — is already remarkably different from the House’s version.

“In the Senate, I bet the 84-page bill is going to end up being less than 40 pages — we’ve taken a lot of stuff out and put some stuff in, and a lot of that is information we’ve gotten from these forums and listening to teachers,” Turner said.

About a dozen Upstate legislators listened to the more-than-30 teachers, administrators, school board members, and residents who spoke on education issues during the Wade Hampton High meeting.

Greenville County Schools Superintendent Burke Royster told the delegates the starting salary for a teacher in GCS is $35,755 — the state’s minimum starting salary is $32,000.

Royster said that out of the starting salary a teacher makes in Greenville, they’re left without about $2,000 after deductions and taxes.

“Out of that, on average in Greenville, they’re going to have about a $275-a-month payback on student loans, $1,000 a month to rent an apartment — not in downtown Greenville — $355 a month in transportation costs, $139 a month in utilities, $250 average cost of food,” Royster said. “They’re [then] left with $26.80 at the end of the month.”

Reading intervention teacher Amy Bowlin shows Greenville delegates student progress after eight weeks. Photo by Ariel Gilreath.

Teachers echoed Royster in calling for increased salaries. Lindsey Jacobs, policy and advocacy director for Public Education Partners, told delegates the short-term goal should be to raise teacher pay in South Carolina to the national average.

Leland Blankenship, director of the Donaldson Career Center, told the delegates his school’s teacher of the year works a second, 40-hour-per-week manufacturing job on top of her teaching position at the career center.

“This manufacturer is trying to lure her away from teaching, and I don’t blame them,” Blankenship said. “When she goes full-time with that company this summer and sees what it’s like to have one job that pays well, I’m afraid she’ll not return in the fall.”

Along with calls to increase pay, teachers took aim at the Read to Succeed Act — legislation that retains third-graders who fail to demonstrate reading proficiency.

Administrators and teachers told the Greenville legislators that third grade is too late, and the state should look at earlier interventions in kindergarten and first grade.

“We recognize that when a child enters our system at the age of 4 or 5, attends school four years, 180 days per school year, up to seven hours a day, and yet they fail to read by the end of third grade, something needs to happen,” said Charlotte McDavid, executive director for academic innovation and technology with GCS. “But we must ask ourselves, did this child fail third grade, or did our accountability system fail this child?”

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