By Alex Saitta
July 11, 2015
This letter to the editor that was in the Pickens County Courier written by this man from Clemson caught my eye. I gather he is a teacher. See his May 28 letter below. He wrote, “His [Alex Saitta’s] experience as a Wall Street stock broker in New York has served him well in convincing the poor people of Pickens County that their greatest enemies in the world are the teachers and administrators of the School District of Pickens County. Teachers in Pickens County have not been given raises in eight of the last 10 years. Teachers have gotten step increases.”
For 8 of the past 10 years teacher pay rose, as teachers were given a step increase for sure and sometimes teachers also received a cost of living increase on top of that too. If a teacher gets a higher degree like going from a BA to a Masters, they get pay raises for that too. As well as if they become a nationally certified teacher. It is possible an teacher could have been given four raises four different raises in a year.
In 2009, 2010 and 2011 the district faced budget deficits. In 2009 the district cut about 30 classroom teaching positions. In late 2010 the administration proposed cutting another 22. Instead, in order to protect classroom teaching positions, the district froze teacher pay (no step, no COLA, no pay raise), and no more classroom teachers were cut.
A step increase occurs when a teacher’s experience steps up one year and that teacher moves along the pay scale earning about $900 more. For instance a teacher with a Masters degree going from 8 to 9 years of experience gets a $985 pay raise.
for the teacher pay schedule in Pickens.
A teacher step increase is usually an automatic pay raise, but like I said above, two years we froze the step in order to balance the budget and protect teaching positions. The writer doesn’t see a step increase as a pay raise for some reason that I can’t figure out. It is a pay raise.
Looking at the budget starting in 2015-16, I thought teachers would get their typical step increase ($900 on average) PLUS they would be jumped ahead an extra year (or another $900 raise) to make up the 2010 lost step increase. This was going to be possible because of growing revenue and the building program is finished/ digested and not demanding additional expenditures from the general fund budget. In the end the board majority voted to give three annual pay raises. The one for 2015-16 and made up the two from 2009 and 2010.
My second point is and the purpose of this column is the writer said I attacked teachers over pay raises in the letter I had written the week before. He wrote, “Teaching is a profession filled with a lack of respect and low salary. That is expected. What you don’t expect is to be attacked by your own school board members.”
Please take the time to read my entire May 21 letter at the bottom. Where is the attack? The writer and myself agreed in the overall goal was to make-up the two missed teacher pay raises. We just disagreed how to get there. Evidently he supported a tax increase to make up those two extra teacher pay raises. I didn’t and explained why. I preferred to fund them through revenue growth and better managing spending priorities.
Unfortunately, if you disagree with someone, too often it is labeled an attack and that is what I think happened here. In my opinion it is part and parcel of the politically correct world we live in today where words are too often weaponized in order to surpress opposing points of view. The dynamic goes like this. Mr. Jones says he disagrees with something Mr. Smith is saying or Mr. Smith's position on a matter. Mr. Smith responds by calling it an attack, acting like he has been victimized by Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones is then less likely to express his opposition in the future for fear of being labeled aggressive or a bully.
Courier Letters to the Editor
May 28, 2015
In Response To Saitta
I want to respond to the hundreds of letters written by Pickens County School Board member Alex Saitta attacking teachers, public education and the School District of Pickens County.
In just his last letter published in the Pickens County Courier, Saitta is trying to convince the good people of Pickens County that teachers “were given raises eight out of the last 10 years.” This is typical of the manipulation of facts that Saitta has used over the past 10 years.
His experience as a Wall Street stock broker in New York has served him well in convincing the poor people of Pickens County that their greatest enemies in the world are the teachers and administrators of the School District of Pickens County.
Teachers in Pickens County have not been given raises in eight of the last 10 years. Teachers have gotten step increases. Public school teachers in South Carolina are given step increases each year for their qualifying professional experience and ongoing academic training. That is why I accepted a $17,000 salary my first year as a teacher, even though I had a college education (teacher salaries have lagged behind other professions which require similar education for a very long time).
The promise of those step increases was guaranteed by law in South Carolina. Teaching experience has an inherent value, increasing the worth of a teacher to the district. A step increase isn’t about how much the cost of living has risen this year (which is occasionally given as a raise) – rather, step increases are given because a teacher’s skills have improved, thus making them more valuable. In fact, “step’’ increments are not raises, but forms of deferred compensation aimed at saving districts money.
If teachers were to reach their maximum salary within a few years, as is the case in other professions, the cost to school districts would balloon exponentially.
In 2011 and 2012, the state of South Carolina broke its promise to teachers when the state legislature voted to allow school districts to suspend teacher steps – meaning teachers were not paid the salaries they were promised when they accepted their positions.
Seventeen out of the 81 school districts in South Carolina suspended step increases. All have reinstated those increases except Pickens County. The district is in the process of phasing those steps back in, but the money lost in the last four or five years will never be made up.
I am sure that some people will claim that I am just writing this to increase my salary. However, I have been teaching for 31 years, and the step increases no longer affect me. I am just tired of distortions of the truth designed to hurt the public’s image of teachers.
These step increases are also important in the recruitment of new teachers. Competing with neighboring school districts for new teachers, Pickens County has to deal with the fact that in the United States, anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of teachers will leave the classroom within their first five years. In theory, the classroom hours aren’t bad and the summers are free. But many young teachers soon realize they must do overwhelming amounts of after-hours work. They pour out emotional energy into their work, which breeds quick exhaustion.
A lot of older teachers eventually feel pressured to advance into higher-level administration as their careers progress in order to better support their families. Teaching is a profession filled with a lack of respect and low salary. That is expected. What you don’t expect is to be attacked by your own school board members.
Courier Letters to the Editor
May 21, 2015
Saitta Talks Pay Raises
I am responding to the letter written by the senior living in Liberty on Social Security who supports raising school taxes again.
Usually the state requires school districts to give teachers an annual pay increase. In 2010 and 2011, the state gave districts the option to freeze teacher pay to deal with budget deficits. Our district cut 30 classroom teaching positions in 2009 and raised class sizes (I voted against that, by the way). In 2010, the administration proposed eliminating another 22 classroom teaching positions. The board opted instead to freeze teacher pay per the state option and protect all classroom teaching positions, keeping class sizes low. We did the same in 2011.
Some other districts did the same both years. Some other districts opted to freeze pay one year and raise class sizes a bit. And others opted to cut classroom teaching positions and gave pay raises both years. As a result, our class sizes tend to be a bit lower, and our pay a bit lower.
Since then, the board talked about narrowing the teacher pay gap, but the aftermath of the building program put a strain on the overall financial resources of the district. It is costing $18 million more a year to fund the building loan, $3 million more a year to run, clean and repair the buildings day to day, and another $5 million for roof, HVAC, computer refreshes and other capital replacements. That’s $26 million, or equal to 30 teacher annual pay raises. Now that those extra building costs are covered, the focus has shifted toward narrowing the teacher pay gap. I think we’ll have success in doing that this upcoming year.
I do not support raising tax rates to do that. While our teachers were given raises eight of the last 10 years, many taxpayers went two, three or four years without pay raises. Many business owners made little money in the 2009 to 2012 period. Even Social Security recipients didn’t receive pay raises two years. No one is coming back, giving them money to make up their losses.
So I don’t believe it is fair to say to those workers, business owners and Social Security recipients that the school board is now going to tax you more so it can give its employees the two missed pay raises. Besides, school tax rates are high enough, having risen from 128 mills in 2007 to 165.2 this year (just shy of the record high). I’d also like to keep our class sizes down. That is an advantage we give our students and teachers that shouldn’t be given up.
I do value our teachers and support narrowing that pay gap. That is, I support giving teachers their annual pay raise plus additional pay on top of that to narrow that gap. However, I believe this can be done within the growing revenue and with better budget management and setting of priorities.