District pushes to attract teachers
February 9, 2023
locally and globally, it is consistently stated that teachers are underpaid for the work they do. The time and effort they put in with their students is not reciprocated in their paychecks.
Wando is currently in the midst of a teacher shortage due to the salary crisis. Many teachers are avoiding Mt. Pleasant because of the high living cost. While Wando used to have hundreds of applicants to a job listing, they now receive about 15.
Former East Cooper Center for Advanced Studies Principal and current U.S. Government teacher, Jason Brisini, acknowledges how finding teachers has become a larger problem.
Even here at Wando, which is a great place to teach, it’s hard for us to find teachers,” Brisini said. “Some schools are even worse than us.”
As of Dec. 2022, the median house mortgage was over $700,000 and the median apartment rent cost was $1,700 in Mt. Pleasant. Experts advise that mortgage and rent should not cost more than 30% of a person’s total income.
In order to address this growing financial problem, a board has been created to evaluate problems and potential solutions for teachers salaries as well as other ways to assist teachers. The board is called the Charleston County School District Task Force for Teacher Compensation. It was created earlier this year and there are a handful of individuals involved including Brisini.
“We have pretty much a brand new school board…there’s nine members of the school board, only one of them was re-elected,” Brisini said. “We met pretty regularly because we had to present ideas to the old school board to get feedback. So now we are going to present to the new school board since they are legitimately all brand new.”
Members of the board are hoping an increase in the starting salary will be effective enough to attract more teachers to the district this year.
“We’re going to start recruiting teachers in February…so we really need to ask the board for this raise in compensation pretty soon so it’s going to have to happen really quickly,” Brisini said.
First year teachers currently make about $40,000 a year. The school board broke down the bare minimum costs of what a first year teacher would need to cover to just survive in Mt. Pleasant, and they still ended up 150 dollars short per month.
“[It] was shocking, because as teachers, we really don’t reach that level [of salary]…well into someone’s career,” Brisini said. “It was really eye opening to look at, like how in the world do our first year teachers even survive.”
One member of this board, a person from the Charleston Chamber of Commerce, an organization which deals with all Charleston economic issues, believes that in order for a teacher to live comfortably in the Charleston area, they have to make approximately $58,000 a year.
Biology teacher, Justine Russell, explains the difficulty of affording the Charleston lifestyle with her salary.
“It’s a huge issue, it’s not just a Charleston issue either…but it’s just really bad here because that price of living is so much higher,” Russel said.
Due to the higher living costs, results in many teachers to live outside of Mt. Pleasant in surrounding, cheaper areas that end up being a further commute.
“If there is traffic, my 30 minute commute can double pretty quick and after school it’s even worse…in the morning is almost never under an hour when I go home,” Russell said.
Since the average teaching salary in Charleston County School District is between 40 and 60 thousand dollars, these housing prices are not available to most teachers. Even with the high end of the salary median, $60,000, teachers would still be about 200 dollars short for the median rent price in Mt. Pleasant every month.
“I’m making right above 50,000, but in order to have an apartment in Mount Pleasant, that would require, including just the rental fees…about 2,000 dollars a month plus utilities and everything else,” Russell said. “I would be out about 2300 dollars a month…that would be about 40% of my living expenses [of] my total income, which is not a livable salary.”
With some teachers having side jobs late into the night, sleep deprivation is a very real possibility. Spanish teacher, Martina Abbriano, works in her husband’s nail salon afterschool.
“It does get tiring…teaching is a really involved profession, you essentially have an audience watching you all the time, so it affects your teaching. If you’re really tired because the students know it and then the vibe is different, it also affects your teaching because you might not have enough time to plan or grade so it’s just a vicious cycle,” Abbriano said.
This lacking salary often forces teachers to have to make extra money through these side jobs, but this eventually may lead to quitting, or possibly lower quality teaching, as the exhaustion continues to build.
“I really like what I do so that’s why I don’t leave but I think it’s something that us teachers we all think about [quitting] because sometimes we go through our days and sometimes we have really hard classes with really challenging students,” Abbriano said. “So sometimes we think, is it even worth it to stick around since we’re not getting paid enough.”