BERKELEY COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - On Monday, thousands of students headed back to school in Berkeley County.
Employees have an extra reason to smile as they head back to work this year, especially when pay day comes around. Every person, who works for the Berkeley County School District, can expect to see a six percent raise reflected in their paycheck.
Back in the spring, the school board voted to make several changes including the increase in pay. The board also decided to reduce class sizes in second grade from 25 students to 21. Special education class sizes will also be reduced and the district will be adding more assistants.
Eddie Ingram, the district superintendent, said all of the changes are a plus and the raise for employees was something very needed.
"I'm really proud of that,” Ingram said. “That's one of the largest one-time raises that I've ever seen in 39 years… In fact, it might be the largest. Is it enough? No. We'll probably never pay teachers enough. But at least it's a tangible recognition for what, we believe, is a very precious resource – and those are our teachers. Because it's the person in the classroom that makes the difference."
Ingram said one of the biggest challenges they’re facing this year is growth within the district. Ingram, however, said it’s a good problem to have.
Despite the six percent raise, there are still about 60 vacancies with the district including teachers and bus drivers.
Officials said that *doesn't* mean your child won't have a teacher in his or her classroom. All of Berkeley County students will have a certified teacher in the core areas. Some of the vacancies are new because of how many students have registered over the summer. So many of those classes have not been formed yet.
There are also some vacancies within special education. Those with the district said they’re planning to fill those with folks already employed by the district who are certified in those areas until a permanent teacher can be found. When it comes to buses, BCSD officials say more than 21,000 students rely on buses as their primary mode of transportation to and from school. The district has 214 buses. 196 will be on the roadways and the district has 18 spare buses. Officials say more than 21,000 students ride the bus.
At last check, officials say about 40 more bus drivers are needed. The six percent raise, district employees are seeing this year, is extended to bus drivers.
The new transportation director, Keith Terry, said one of the biggest problems he's seeing right now is the already-established bus routes.
"We might have too many buses in one particular area and we don't have more or enough students on those buses where we can consolidate those bus routes to free up that particular bus and send it to another area,” Terry said.
Terry added he will be looking at changing some of the bus routes, but that is going to be gradual throughout the school year.
In regards to new programs, students at Cane Bay High school have a new asset to help them prepare for real-life scenarios. There are 250 students enrolled in the Law Enforcement Academy going into this fall semester. And this year – those students will have the chance to use a new simulator for their training.
"What is the big thing going on in law enforcement -- it's questioning shootings,” Peter Wright, an instructor with the program, explained. “Are officers making good judgement? Now we can prepare them that much more in advance. It's going to be so valuable in that sense because now when they graduate the Police Academy - they're not walking out into something they have never seen. At least in here they have a safe environment which will enable them to develop their skills." The simulator has about 700 different scenarios and those situations will update every six months based on things happening in the real world.
Wright said the simulator is also going to be used to train School Resource Officers within Berkeley County. He added that, at some point, they will also show it to teachers so they can be better prepared for critical incidents.