Our mail registered a significant uptick the last three weeks as I passed along some of the things we have been doing on the jobs front here in South Carolina, with an emphasis on the Lowcountry. As always, I commend Kim Statler and her crew at the Lowcountry Economic Network for all the great things they are pursuing.
I also need to thank Anna Cauthen and Matt Green for the invitation to Coffee Talk last week. We had around 25 young businesspeople at the Downtown Deli for a fun, productive event. It is always a pleasant surprise when I get to see and hear from the intelligent and creative folks in our up-and-coming business community. The very fact that they are working so hard sometimes means that we don’t get to hear from them as much as we ideally should. There is no age limit on good ideas.
Continuing somewhat indirectly in the jobs vein that I have followed for the last three weeks, I need to reference last week’s column in Bluffton Today by State Education Superintendent Jim Rex. In the piece, Mr. Rex gave us an overview of his recommendations to Gov. Sanford for the 2011-12 budget. He correctly pointed out that our teachers have not had a cost of living raise for three years, they also have 3000 to 4000 fewer colleagues sharing their work load, and are looking at something like 78,000 mandatory furlough days in the next year which amounts to a $20 million pay cut. They have significantly more students per teacher, and are using increasingly outdated textbooks and software.
Furthermore, Mr. Rex will recommend $40 million to help revamp our oldest-in-the-country school bus system. This is not only about the safety of our children, it is about the disruption that late or broken down buses cause in the school day, not to mention parental anxiety.
What I didn’t hear from Mr. Rex was how many administrators have lost their jobs or been given mandatory furloughs. In my time in Columbia, I have seen the Dept of Education grow tremendously with various specialists of one sort or another. The implication is that administrators somehow make the front-line teachers more effective or more efficient. If that were truly the case, the proliferation of administrators would certainly be reflected in dramatic improvement in our national rankings or test scores.
My thinking on this is we need to pay our teachers a respectable, predictable wage. They are worth it. You have heard me say many times that school funding priorities should focus in the classroom and decrease as we move further up the ladder. If my thinking on this is wrong, tell me why.
If we are going to have public school buses, let’s not have the oldest, most worn out units in the country. This, in my view, is a false economy. If there is a better way to handle school transportation, let’s hear it.
When I am in talks with companies about locating in South Carolina, I always like to talk about our tax structure, our right-to-work laws, good climate, and improving port system. What I least like to talk about is education. Unfortunately, business folks that are looking to ask employees to relocate to our state are more than a little interested in our school systems. When I have to say some school systems are excellent and some are not, my sales pitch tends to lose momentum.
Friends, one way or another, we are going to have to deal with this issue. I am open for ideas. Let me hear from you.