PICKENS COUNTY — Pickens County School Superintendent Dr. Danny Merck, the featured speaker April 22 for the Greater Easley Chamber of Commerce Business Luncheon, addressed the local school district, its successes, and challenges.
Merck took a moment at the beginning of his time at the podium to recognize the outstanding service of two employees who received honors recently.
Anita Richardson of McKissick Middle School has been honored as the S.C. Assistant Principal of the Year and Tina Kelley of Chastain Road Elementary School received honors from the state as the S.C. Counselor of the Year.
“You can’t have success without good people,” Merck said of Richardson and Kelley. “The people we have make the district better.”
When it came to School District of Pickens County business and a snapshot of where the district is at this point, Merck dove right in, touching on the necessity of technology in the classroom and a recent NY Times article that referenced SDPC and its system of teaching through technology.
“I can’t take credit for this. This is the result of previous administrations and the emphasis they placed on teaching using technology and exposing our students to technology in the classroom,” Merck said. “Our Career and Technology Center takes a different hands on approach and it has made a world of difference. But the truth is, as much progress as has been made, we are still lagging behind when it comes to technology and our students learning the life skills they need to succeed.”
Another accomplishment Merck takes pride in is the increase in the graduation rate. In 2015 the graduation rate was 82 percent, which is the highest in the district’s history.
The agreement with the Pickens County YMCA for mentoring was a program Merck highlighted as successful as it gives everyday hands on advice and access to experience to SDPC’s students.
“If you are a member of a church or business and want to be involved in education, see Sid Collins (Pickens YMCA),” Merck encouraged those in attendance. “It’s just 30 minutes per week and they will make it convenient. By being a mentor you will make a huge impact. The fact is we need you involved in our schools.”
Merck highlighted some impressive figures including SDPC’s ranking in the top five in the state for SAT and ACT performance and a number eight ranking in Workeys Assessment with Liberty High School being rated as one of the best Workeys schools in South Carolina.
The challenges ahead for SDPC are in some ways shared by all school districts throughout South Carolina. One of the challenges Merck outlined was the decrease of by 40 percent of the teachers who choose to remain in the profession beyond year five of their careers.
“We cannot continue to lose valuable, good teachers,” Merck said. “There are times to compromise but I won’t compromise on hiring the best.”
When it came to hiring of teachers and administrators, Merck and the position of SDPC administration was clear as he stated his position: “Hire first. Hire the best. Pay competitive.”
With last year’s two step increase approved by the board of trustees, SDPC went from 48th in teacher pay in the state to 25th, a statistic the superintendent said is getting attention and attracting talented educators to the area.
With closings and consolidation still in the minds of many, Merck closed his address by discussing the cost of education.
According to the superintendent, the cost of everything has increased, including education, yet the state’s funding of education has not increased while the mandates legislated for school districts has.
“The cost of eggs has gone up 179 percent in the last 10 years yet the state’s per student funding is still down 4.4 percent. Just like the cost of those eggs, the cost of everything associated with education has risen,” Merck said. “We can’t ignore the rise in costs without addressing them and expect good results.”
As concerns the next budget process, there is no final number for SDPC’s 2016-2017 budget, but considering the maintenance issues the district faces along with mandated retirement and health insurance increases from the state, Merck took a pragmatic approach.
“We have to get to the point where we are using preventative measures instead of reactive,” Merck said. “The number to make that happen is in the $5.5 million to $8 million range needed going forward.”
The SDPC budgetary process has begun and has completed its first reading with two more readings required. The figures will become final when the state completes its budgetary debate and SDPC received the mandate figures along with per student spending.
Reach D. C. Moody at 864-855-0355.