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District concerned about impact from TERI sunset

Posted: November 9, 2017 4:06 p.m.
Updated: November 10, 2017 1:00 a.m.

The end of the S.C. Teacher and Employee Retention Incentive (TERI) program, set for June 30, 2018, has the Kershaw County School District (KCSD) concerned it will be harder to keep experienced teachers in classrooms. Speaking to the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees during its meeting Tuesday night, KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan said TERI’s end could limit at least some still-working retirees’ annual income to $10,000.

TERI employees are those who retire from the S.C. Retirement System, but have elected to continue working with the same agency they worked for in the same position they previously held. Participation is generally for a period of five years or less.

Morgan, who turned over most of this part of his report to KCSD Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Dr. Connie Graham, talked about the issue as one of two possible legislative positions for the district to take along with the S.C. School Board Association (SCSBA). The other concerns the district calendar. Morgan said he would like the board to discuss both issues at its Nov. 28 meeting. (The board will not meet Nov. 21 due to the nearness of the Thanksgiving holiday.)

“As of right now, on June 30th, people that are on TERI are going to be subject to a $10,000 limit on earnings, and that’s going to have an impact on us,” Morgan said. “For us, if it goes into effect, it’s going to be a difficult impact. For other districts in this state, it’s going to be a devastating impact … especially in the rural areas where they may be a significant part of their certified workforce.”

Graham described the issue as a “serious problem” because the district already has an issue in recruiting teachers and retaining them.

“So, with the earnings limitation that was proposed and enacted by the legislature, that’s going to be an even greater issue for us,” Graham said. “In essence, anyone who entered the TERI program … after Jan. 1, 2013, and is not 62 years of age -- in other words, they’re not full retirement age -- their earnings for the year will be limited to $10,000. So, that means that if they decide they’re going to work in January, once they reach that $10,000, they will no longer receive their pension and we would not be paying for them. All we could pay them is the $10,000 which, you see, defeats the purpose of our recruiting and retaining teachers.”

Graham said she and Morgan believe the legislature has two options: 1) delay the action for a year to give everyone involved time to review the impact and figure out what to do long term, or 2) eliminate it completely.

She said the district has approximately 60 employees who will be retiring, 38 of whom would be subject to the earnings limitation.

“The only way around this is if we have schools that are categorized as being in critical geographic need. We have 10 of those schools that are in our school district. The other way is for a teacher who is certified in a critical needs area such as special education … Spanish, those areas where we really have trouble recruiting in. So, if they are in any of those categories, they can be exempt from the earnings limitation,” Graham said.

However, the district would have to complete a special assurance form that says the district has not considered any teachers before the May 31 deadline, and are in critical geographic areas or are certified teachers in an area of need.

“If we are found to not abide by what the state government has asked us to do, we have to pay that money back -- every penny of it for any teacher that we approve that does not fit the requirements,” Graham said.

Morgan said that regardless of whether the legislature stays the course, delays or eliminates the earnings limitation, the district must continue to engage in aggressive recruiting.

In regard to the district calendar, Morgan said the SCSBA recognizes that the legislative mandate to not start the school year prior to the third Monday in August is making it difficult to complete the first 90 days -- half of the 180-day mandatory school year -- before the winter break.

“The legislative position I’d like us to think about -- you may not agree with it -- is asking that there be accommodations to start earlier if your purpose is to finish school, the first semester, before Christmas and go to school for 90 days,” Morgan said. “I think that’s a nice trade off and it’s not to start early so you can have a one-week fall break, but to get 90 days in.”

At the end of the report, Morgan said legislators would appreciate a “less is more” approach to districts and the SCSBA taking positions on issues. He also said he hopes the positions will be “palatable” to legislators, especially on the school calendar, because the General Assembly has to listen to other stakeholders, including the tourism industry, which he said “wags the calendar issue.”

In other business Tuesday:

• Larry Finney, of Greene Finney & Horton, provided an overview of its Fiscal Year 2017 audit, which received an unmodified opinion, the best opinion possible. Finney said the district is in good financial position and praised the district and board for continuing to build a healthy fund balance, which will lead to better interest rates on bonds the district sells for construction projects. Finney did mention that the audit included a test of the district’s grant-funded 21st Century Community Learning Center program due to an issue during Fiscal Year 2016 that could see the district returning approximately $138,000 to the state. The Fiscal Year 2016 audit noted a “substantial deficiency” in connection to the 21st Century program. Specifically, that the state disallowed $138,470 for curriculum materials and books that allegedly did not meet grant award criteria and covered pre-award costs. The issue is under appeal, and Morgan said he believes the settlement with the state “will be a great deal lower.” Finney said this year’s audit noted no deficiencies.

• Trustees unanimously passed 10 new or revised policies, including a Read to Succeed policy requiring districts to retain 3rd Graders who do not meet grade-level reading requirements. Morgan had KCSD Executive Director for K-12 Instructor Tim Hopkins go over this particular policy change with trustees ahead of the vote. Hopkins’ report included a rundown on exemptions and ways for students to progress to 4th Grade, including attending a summer reading camp between their 3rd and 4th grade school years.

• Trustees unanimously accepted the guaranteed maximum price for several referenda-related projects, including construction of the new Applied Technology Education Campus (ATEC). The vote followed a report from KCSD Executive Director of Operations Billy Smith on those projects already underway. Smith said ATEC’s groundbreaking is still set for the beginning of December and that crews are awaiting a ground disturbance permit from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. 

• Trustee Todd McDonald, who serves as co-chair of the board and Kershaw County Council’s joint ad hoc committee on growth and school resource officer funding, reported that the committee’s most recent meeting was the “most productive meeting we’ve had.” McDonald said the committee discussed both short- and long-term ideas regarding both issues. “I will tell you, because I want to be completely transparent to the board, I told everybody that was there that I did not mind taking on some additional expenses for SROs -- fractionally -- if we could come up with some sort of growth plan,” McDonald said.

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