Horry County school board members just saw their $119,000 salary study for the first time.
They are not at all happy.
A salary study commissioned by Horry County Schools last year — which was not finished by the January 2018 deadline — recommends some pay raises for employees, including teachers and bus drivers, but doesn't provide data to back up recommendations.
So far, the district has paid $52,000 to MGT Consulting, which conducted the study. The total cost for the study would be $119,000, but district officials say it's too early to tell if they will pay the full cost to the consulting firm if it doesn't give them what they want.
"Are there holes some places? Yes," Nancy Stepina-Robinson with MGT Consulting told the district's human resources committee Monday night. "We can’t match every single job. There are a lot of differences and it takes a lot of time to get the correct matches."
In addition, the study addressed which employees were not being paid enough, such as bus drivers and the low end of salaries for teachers with master's and doctorate degrees. But it did not address which employees were being paid too much.
"I know a couple instances where we don’t pay enough," said school board Chair Joe DeFeo. "Is there nowhere where we’re paying too much?"
Stepina-Robinson said she didn't know.
"I guess it’s your definition of too much," she told board members. The study made clear which teaching positions didn't pay enough.
DeFeo was not happy with the study that compared the district to only 10 other districts, including Georgetown, Charleston, Greenville and two separate districts in Richland County. The study also didn't offer hard data to back up MGT's recommendations.
The study was commissioned by district staff last year by the human resources committee. It was never approved by the full board.
Mary Anderson, head of the human resources department, said district staff selected the other comparable districts after being given permission to issue a Request for Proposals for the study during an HR committee meeting last year.
Staff selected the 10 districts that were comparable to Horry County.
"We look at teacher salaries in districts that we are generally compared to as far as teacher salary but also levels of poverty, size, various things," Anderson said. For example, Greenville and Charleston were chosen as comparable districts because of their size, and Georgetown because of its proximity.
Cox said he wasn't happy with the study, but didn't have a problem with only 10 districts being chosen for comparison. DeFeo did not agree.
"What I want to see in the salary study is where we are at with the other markets," said DeFeo, who wanted to know how the district compared to every other district in the state.
And he wasn't happy with the consulting firm telling board members what they should be paying employees.
For many non-teaching jobs, such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers, the study showed proposed minimum and maximum salaries, but it didn't show what the district paid in relation to other districts for those same positions. For example, the study recommended a starting bus driver salary of $13.14, up from $12 an hour. The study did not say what other districts were paying for bus drivers.
"This board can decide where we want to be competitive or not or go higher or lower," DeFeo said. "This board is not going to say ‘Tell us what to pay people.’ It’s not going to happen."
The study also repeatedly referenced appendices at the bottom of the study for more information related to the study's claims and recommendations. But many of the appendices were left blank.
Stepina-Robinson said she had the data behind the recommendations.
"We have it, we just didn’t provide it to the committee," she said, and promised to give the data to the district.
For teachers, the study compared HCS to the other 10 districts in the study. It showed that four districts — Aiken, Charleston, Dorchester 2 and Richland 2 — had a higher starting salary than Horry County's $36,011.
The highest starting salary was Aiken at $37,922. All others higher than HCS were in the $36,000 to $37,000 range.
The study said the district's teacher salaries were competitive, and said the district was only lagging behind its competition in the starting salaries of teachers with graduate degrees.
"Generally speaking, you’re in really good shape with your teacher positions," Stepina-Robinson said.
Cox said he wanted the hard pay data as soon as possible.
"It’s incumbent to contact Ms. (Mary) Anderson and (Chief Financial Officer) John (Gardner) because we have to have those numbers and we have to have them ASAP," Cox said.
DeFeo was ready to start over.
"I originally wanted our own staff to do the salary study and that’s where we are at this point," he said. "I trust them far more than I trust some company that I know nothing about."
Christian Boschult, 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian