Everybody’s feeling pinched by inflation, but new teachers in Beaufort County are particularly challenged. Often right out of college and living on a single income, more than 40% of a rookie teacher’s take-home pay can be gobbled by rent.
A year into their jobs, rookie teachers are barely afloat financially, even if they’re frugal, data show. Their options are part-time jobs, a roommate to share rent or, sadly, leaving teaching.
With fewer graduates choosing teaching careers and many leaving after a few years, schools everywhere need teachers. In Beaufort County, recruiting and retaining teachers is especially daunting because of high housing costs.
The Beaufort County School District has scores of vacancies about 11 weeks before school starts – a troubling prospect for parents, because teacher shortages can mean overcrowded classrooms.
The Beaufort County Council can help by approving the district’s 2022-23 budget, which calls for pay increases.
Data from nine government and private sources illustrate what teachers, especially rookies, are up against:
• Since 2020, rents in Beaufort County have risen 31.1%, faster than in any county in South Carolina.
• Average annual rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $13,782, the third highest in the state. By year’s end, residential rents in the U.S. are expected to rise 6%, according to The CoStar Group, a firm that analyzes real estate trends. That would push average rent for a one-bedroom apartment here up $826, to $14,608 a year, 45% of a rookie teacher’s take-home pay.
• First-year pay for rookie teachers – $42,928 – can leave them about $47 in the hole after a year. Take-home pay is diminished by the usual deductions, but there’s an extra hit: another $3,400 comes out for the State Retirement System.
Inflation has driven up living costs so quickly that one cost-of-living survey, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was updated mid-year to account for higher prices.
The school district’s new budget would raise compensation for rookie teachers from $42,928 to $48,066, with corresponding increases for teachers with more experience and advanced degrees.
Is it too much? No. After withholding taxes and other required take-outs, a rookie teacher would take home about $35,700. At the end of the year, after paying rent, other living expenses and living frugally, about $3,100 would be left for savings or for unexpected expenses.
That cushion would shrink to $2,277 if rents rise 6%, as CoStar predicts.
Yes, raising salaries would modestly increase property taxes for businesses and second-home owners, but not for residents of owner-occupied homes. Second-home owners would pay $60 more a year for a home assessed at $250,000; taxes would be $96 more for a home assessed at $400,000.
Understandably, County Council members may be sensitive about adding to taxpayers’ burden. They know businesses are likely to pass higher expenses on to customers, straining household budgets a bit more.
But it’s worth remembering that most of us pay no property taxes for operating our schools, thanks to a shortsighted change in the state’s tax laws in 2006. And if our taxes are so onerous, why are so many new residents moving here?
County Council reviewed the school district’s budget on May 23 and will reconsider it on June 13 and 27. Both meetings will be at 6 p.m. at Council Chambers at 100 Ribaut Road, Beaufort.
Please attend and let your voice be heard.
Fitz McAden, former editor of The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette, is married to a teacher recruiter for the Beaufort County School District.