December 20, 2014

Study panel warns better pay and benefits needed to avoid teacher shortage

Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, led the study committee (File/SCETV)

Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, led the study committee (File/SCETV)

A state Senate panel is warning that South Carolina will need to do a lot more to recruit and keep teachers over the next decade — especially in rural areas.

The Select Committee on Public School Teachers reached consensus on several recommendations earlier this week. Those recommendations are not binding, but will be sent to the Senate Finance Committee. It would be up to the full General Assembly and Governor Nikki Haley to include the proposals in the state budget or new legislation.

The recommendations include expanding a college loan forgiveness program and boosting salaries. Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, said trends seem to indicate that teachers are more likely to stay in the field once they reach five years of experience. But many leave within two or three years. He said it appears pay may be the most important factor in their decision.

“Salary is, of course, a big part particularly for new teachers and young teachers,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “They often come out of college with heavy debt. The pay makes a huge difference to them.”

According to the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement (CERRA), about 2,000 students graduate from South Carolina colleges with education majors each year. But the group says that is not nearly enough to meet the usual 4,000 openings in South Carolina’s school districts. The group said the difference is made up through out-of-state teachers, who are much less likely to remain in South Carolina for the long term.

Hayes warns the problem is only going to get worse, especially in rural areas. “With the Baby Boomers aging out, we’re going to face a teacher shortage all over the state soon. And an administrator shortage. A principal shortage.”

The study panel is also asking officials to examine teacher mentoring programs and other initiatives that would work to keep homegrown teachers in rural or poor districts. Hayes noted that wealthier, suburban school districts and private schools are often able to entice teachers with  larger paychecks financed through higher property tax revenue than rural districts can collect.

“If you can get teachers that come from these hard-to-serve areas and have family in those areas, the likelihood that they’ll go back and live there permanently is much better than just trying to attract a teacher with no roots in those areas at all,” he said.

The panel did not estimate  the cost for its general recommendations.


Former Marine ruled insane after stealing fire truck, killing pedestrian

Naval Hospital Beaufort (Image: US Navy)

Naval Hospital Beaufort (Image: US Navy)

A former Marine who escaped from the Naval Hospital Beaufort wearing only his boxer shorts, stole a fire truck, and then used it to strike and kill a pedestrian has been found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The Beaufort Gazette reports that Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen issued the ruling Thursday in the case of 28-year-old Kalvin Hunt of Sumter. Hunt had been charged with murder and numerous other counts in the death of 28-year-old Justin Miller. Psychiatrists have diagnosed Hunt with paranoid schizophrenia. He is now at a secure state Department of Mental Health facility, the newspaper reports.

Investigators said Hunt had been taken to the naval hospital for evaluation on February 24, 2012 by a Beaufort County Veterans Affairs officer after Hunt’s mother expressed concerns about his well-being. At some point, Hunt escaped from hospital personnel and fled the grounds. The 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office said Hunt eventually came across a Port Royal Fire Department truck that was responding to a call at a nearby apartment complex. He got into the truck and drove off, later striking six other cars and running down Miller while the other man walked along Ribaut Road, prosecutors said. Hunt then crashed in a wooded area.

The judge said a new hearing and judicial decision would be held if Hunt is ever recommended for release. He was dishonorably discharged from the Marines not long after the incident.

A lawsuit was filed last year against the naval hospital and Hunt by another driver whose SUV was hit by the fire truck.

Unemployment rate holds steady in SC, but more entering workforce

workerSouth Carolina’s unemployment rate remained at 6.7 percent in November, as the state Department of Employment and Workforce (SCDEW) reports more people found jobs at roughly the same rate others started looking.

The monthly data released on Friday showed a record-high labor force of nearly 2.198 million people either who were either part of the workforce or looking for work. The workforce grew by more than 5,560 people since October, according to SCDEW. At the same time, roughly 5,900 more people were listed as employed in November from a month earlier.

November’s numbers did halt what had been four consecutive months of increases in the unemployment rate as more people began looking for work since the rate was 5.3 percent in June. Roughly 28,500 more people were listed as employed in November compared to the same month in 2013. At the same time, the number of people listed as unemployed dropped by just 1,100.

The biggest increases from October to November came in Professional and Business Services as well as Leisure and Hospitality, according to SCDEW. The Construction sector and the Education and Health Services industry both had slight decreases during the same span.

Marion County still has the state’s highest unemployment rate at 11.6 percent. Greenville, Lexington and Saluda counties all tied for the lowest rates at 5.2 percent.

SC congressional delegation vows to block president on Cuba

Congressman Jeff Duncan (File)

Congressman Jeff Duncan (File)

Republicans are threatening to block efforts by President Obama to reopen the American embassy in Cuba as the U.S. thaws relations with the island nation.

Congressional Republicans say they could take advantage of their new Senate control by refusing to approve a new ambassador or set aside funding for the embassy.

That includes South Carolina’s Third District Congressman Jeff Duncan, who will now chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. “We all have a like mind that the administration got this one wrong,” he told Greenwood affiliate WCRS, adding that it would require Congress to take some actions. “They still have to get funding for an embassy. They still have to get an ambassador confirmed by the Senate. That ain’t going to happen. A lot of this is just for optics.”

Both of South Carolina’s senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott echoed Duncan. “Normalizing relations with Cuba is a bad idea at a bad time,” Graham tweeted on Wednesday, vowing to block any funding that would reopen the U.S. embassy in Havana. Scott added that he was glad to see American hostage Alan Gross released as part of the deal, but added that he was concerned the president was rewarding Cuba for decades of human rights abuses.

Duncan said he thinks the U.S. should have gotten much more out of the agreement besides the release of a hostage. “This administration has done a terrible job negotiating on this deal,” he told WCRS. “America got nothing, other than the ability to bring some Cuban cigars back when you travel to Havana.”

Fourth District Congressman Trey Gowdy told Greenville affiliate WORD News that his issue was the president acting unilaterally. “He’s doing it intentionally where the voters would never have a chance to rebuke him,” he told WORD’s Vince Coakley. “If he’s so right about it… then he needs to face the voters.”

At least one GOP congressman went against his colleagues. First District Congressman Mark Sanford said he supports the deal. “(U.S.) Cuba travel policy was inconsistent with our country’s founding principle of individual liberty and the freedom of movement that should come with it,” Sanford said in an email to news organizations. “In fact with the exception of Cuba, we are allowed to travel to any country in the world. Think about that. Americans could travel to Iran, North Korea or Syria, but not Cuba fifty miles off our coast?”

Besides embassy funding, Congress would also need to approve ending the trade embargo that bans US companies from importing or exporting to Cuba.

Governor appoints head of new Department of Administration

Gov. Haley and Marcia Adams. South Carolina Radio Network photo.

Gov. Haley and Marcia Adams.

Governor Nikki Haley has made her choice to head South Carolina’s newest Cabinet-level agency.

Haley selected Marcia Adams to lead the new state Department of Administration. “I am very, very proud to say that Marcia Adams will be leading the Department of Administration.” Haley said Thursday afternoon during a press conference at the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia.

The Department of Administration was created as part of a government restructuring bill that passed earlier this year. The agency replaces the state Budget and Control Board and handles most of the state’s bureaucratic functions like human resources, building maintenance, and information technology. Adams had led the Budget & Control Board since July 2011, when she was promoted from the agency’s chief of staff. Prior to that, she led the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Adams said she is looking forward to leading the new department. “I am excited to be the first director of the Department of Administration and to be a part of the team that is going to set the direction for this very important agency,” she told reporters on Thursday. She added that she will collaborate with other state agencies.

The Budget and Control Board is currently in a transition period, as it spins off former divisions into their new home. Adams will not take over her new responsibilities until the transition is complete in July 2015.