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Teachers Wanted: S.C. Company Hires Cash-Strapped Educators for Warehouse Jobs

Teachers taking on a second job to make ends meet is common: Almost 1 in 5 educators say they work outside of school, doing everything from tutoring to driving for Uber and working at fast food restaurants. But in this South Carolina city, one company has started an unusual program—offering part-time warehouse work for teachers in the area.

Nephron Pharmaceuticals, a drug manufacturing company in West Columbia, S.C., recently hired 650 current and retired teachers through a new program designed to provide educators with additional income.

"I didn't have any idea that many teachers work second jobs," said Lou Kennedy, the company's CEO, in an interview with Education Week. "And a lot of them [are] waiting tables, or working at Starbucks. And there, they're only making $7 or $8, or maybe that plus tip. I figured this [program] could be a good thing."

Teachers are paid $21 an hour at Nephron. Their work includes tasks like folding cartons, labeling syringes, and packing materials. As part-time employees, they do not receive benefits.

Kennedy decided to reach out to teachers when the company started experiencing a backlog of orders earlier this year. Nephron needed more workers, Kennedy said, and she knew that should could count on teachers to be "really, really responsible" employees.

In setting the teacher wage at her company, Kennedy aimed to pay more than the starting salary for teachers in South Carolina. The $21 an hour wage approximates a prorated full-time salary of $40,000 a year, she said. (The average starting salary for teachers in South Carolina is $33,148, according to data collected by the National Education Association.)

By now, Nephron has received so much teacher interest that they have had to stop taking new applications from educators, said Kennedy. Teachers sign up for shifts through an online program, which allows these workers to take on 15 to 20 hours a week.

While most of the teachers working at Nephron live within a 30-mile radius of the manufacturing center, some drive up to two hours to work there, Kennedy said.

Dissatisfaction with teacher pay in South Carolina reached a boiling point recently, with teachers staging a protest at their statehouse in Columbia on Wednesday. They called for a 10 percent raise, smaller class sizes, uninterrupted planning time, and for the state legislature to reduce standardized testing. The teachers' march to the statehouse forced at least seven school districts to close.

Kennedy said she supported the protest, and that the current level of teacher pay in the state is a "tragedy."

Still, in general, many teachers say taking on more work isn't the solution. Taking on a second job wears them out physically and emotionally, they say, and doesn't leave enough time or mental energy to prep for their days in the classroom.

"You wish you could do more—whether it's more planning or preparation or whatever—and it just limits you in general," Joe Reid, a former middle school language arts teacher in Hebron, Ind., told my colleague Madeline Will last year.

Kennedy agrees that teachers shouldn't have to take on second jobs and work more hours than they already are in school. But while teacher pay remains stagnant, she thinks programs like hers are one of the best solutions to a complicated problem.

"Until the legislature can find a way to pay [teachers] more, I'm not going to refrain from offering them good money when they need it," she said.

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