While the number of unfilled S.C. teacher jobs increased 16 percent between the 2016 and 2017 school year, the Horry County School District found a way to cut its vacancies by almost a third.
The district, which includes Myrtle Beach, posted a drop from 31 open teacher positions to 22, according to its human resources department.
At the same time the district added 48 new full-time equivalents (where a full-time teacher counts as one and two half-time teachers also count as one), bringing the total to 2,798 last year.
But how the district filled its classrooms is raising questions among some education officials.
Out-of-state teachers made up 38 percent of the district's new teachers hired in 2017. That compares to only 17 percent of new hires statewide, according to the Center for Educator Recruitment Retention and Advancements' 2018 Supply and Demand report.
Recruiting out-of-state teachers isn't always the best path the follow, said Bernadette Hampton, president of the South Carolina Education Association, a teacher organization, and a S.C. teacher.
"A teacher who does not live in the community in which he [or] she teaches has a challenge understanding the culture of the community," Hampton said. "In addition, not understanding the experiences of the families may make it difficult to build relationships and meet the needs of their students."
National education officials say the approach also increases teacher turnover rates.
“It’s hard to recruit folks (from other states) and ask them to stay in a community,” said Ann Nutter Coffman, manager of the teacher quality department with the National Education Association (NEA). “You end up in this churn cycle where you have a high number of educators who are not necessarily invested in their communities because they’re not from there and they’re less likely to stay.”
The district recruits out-of-state teachers because there aren't enough local candidates to fill the gaps, said district spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier, adding the district hosts its own job fair and recruits outside the state to cast a wider net.
"Due to the nationwide shortage of teachers, school districts must recruit locally, statewide and regionally to attract the most qualified candidates to fill vacancies," Bourcier said. And in the past year, there have been more new teaching jobs in the state than newly-certified teachers to fill them.
Statewide, 6,705 teachers quit their jobs last year. Nearly 5,000 of those — or 1 in 10 — left teaching in S.C. public schools altogether.
, comparatively high pay has helped reduce vacancies in Horry County's schools. The district starts teachers at more than $36,000, which exceeds the county median income of $28,742 for people living alone, according to the U.S. Census’ 2016 American Community Survey.
“There’s a teacher shortage but there’s not one in Horry County,” said the late school board Chairman Joe DeFeo. “We are a better place to work than anywhere else in the state.”
A recent salary study comparing Horry County to other districts called the pay “competitive,” although a few other counties had a higher starting salary.
“For example, they pay $8,000 to $10,000 higher than what Marion County School district can pay their teachers,” said Kathy Maness, director of the Palmetto State Teacher Association. “Teachers are paid on a state minimum salary schedule and local districts are able to put more money in. Unlike some small rural districts that are close to Horry County, they are able to put that local supplement in. That is definitely to their advantage."
Plus, Maness added, "who wouldn’t want to live at the beach?"
The State's Cody Dulaney contributed to this report.