Big increase in teacher vacancies having impact on South Carolina schools

ROCK HILL, S.C. — A new report shows a nearly 40-percent increase in teacher vacancies in South Carolina compared to last year, and the numbers are having a real impact on local schools.

Teaching jobs used to see dozens of applications, now it’s hard to get even one applicant for certain positions, one administrator told Channel 9′s Tina Terry.

“I was not surprised to see the numbers, because every year we go down this path,” said Sherry East, a science teacher in Rock Hill.

East is referring to the recent report from the Center of Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement. It says this school year started with more than 1,400 vacant teacher positions in South Carolina, compared to a little over 1,000 last year. It’s a 39% increase in one year, and it’s up 165% over the past three years.

“I think it’s mainly pay and working conditions,” East said, pointing to those as the largest factors driving current teachers out of classrooms around the state. She said it’s also discouraging young people from becoming teachers.

“We’ve seen some colleges shut down their teacher education programs because a lot of young people don’t want to become teachers anymore,” East said.

Lancaster County Schools is just one local district feeling the impact. The district has about 35 teacher openings as of Wednesday.

“There are times now we post a job and we won’t get any applicants, and that’s scary,” said Lydia Quinn, the chief operations officer for the district.

Quinn says the district is trying new methods to draw teachers into the classroom.

“We’ve looked at foreign exchange programs with teachers, we’ve looked at virtual teachers, we’ve hired retirees, we’re working with student interns almost done with their program,” Quinn said.

While districts are working with students finishing up their programs, the report also said that the number of new teachers who were recent South Carolina college graduates went down to 17 percent. That number had ranged from 21 to 36 percent in previous years.

East says the only thing that will reverse this crisis is real change in the way teachers are treated and paid.

“Teachers have to go in early, stay late, they have to work weekends and give up time with their families in order to get the job done, and they’re tired of doing that,” East said.

The state’s minimum salary for teachers is $40,000. Lancaster County Schools says it’s already paying teachers about 13% over that minimum. District leaders say they’re also trying to make sure new applicants are aware of other benefits, like the state’s retirement and health care packages.

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