The South Carolina School Boards Association said Wednesday it has several issues it would like the legislature to address this session, including school bus safety, teacher retirement benefits and who determines when the school year begins.
The group discussed some of its legislative priorities at a Statehouse news conference celebrating School Board Recognition Month. The theme of the month is “Superheroes for Public Education.”
A major concern for education leaders throughout South Carolina is funding for new school buses to replace the state’s aging fleet. The House voted Tuesday to override Governor Henry McMaster’s veto of using surplus lottery funds to purchase new buses. The Senate will vote on the veto next week.
“That is a huge priority, getting new school buses,” association executive director Scott Price said. “I think every couple of months we hear about a bus that catches on fire in South Carolina and to date, with the great blessings, we have not had anybody injured from that. But it’s a matter of time.”
State Education Superintendent Molly Spearman echoed Price’s opinion. “Always our top priority is safety of the children,” she said.
Another bus-related issue the association would like addressed is Senate Bill 199, which would increase penalties for drivers who ignore traffic safety laws at stopped school buses. It would also allow school bus security video footage to be used in the prosecution of drivers who violate the law.
“That would basically put some teeth into the law regarding people who run the stop signs on buses when they come out,” Price said. “Currently, it’s obviously against the law to do that. But there’s really no teeth in the law to allow prosecution of that.”
Price said school districts would also like to determine when the school year starts, rather than a date mandated by state law.
“For a number of reasons related to testing, scheduling, block scheduling that we have, we feel like a number of school boards need to have the authority to set calendars in their local district as to when schools start in the fall and it’s something we have been pushing for a number of years,” he said.
SCSBA also would like to see the legislature eliminate the salary cap for retired teachers and approve money in the budget to increase teacher pay. Price said nearly 6,000 teachers are expected to retire this year.
“There’s currently a cap on what you can earn and still get retirement benefits,” he said. “And we’d like to see that removed for educators and certainly for teachers so that we can deal with the widening gap that we have in teacher shortages in South Carolina and be able to get those retired teachers back into the classroom.
The association plans to officially roll out its legislative agenda later in the session.