Better pay and less paperwork are some of the things local teachers on Thursday said they need to do the best job.

"Smaller class sizes would be a huge help," said Mev McIntosh, a teacher evaluator in the Berkeley County School District.

A group of about a dozen current and former educators met in a roundtable discussion with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen at a West Ashley restaurant.

Sheheen, a son of an educator, promised to address the teachers' concerns if elected, noting that he attended integrated public schools from start-to-finish, which he said makes him unique as a candidate.

Some teachers complained of not feeling like professionals because of low pay. They argued for less focus on mandated testing so more attention could be paid to teaching.

Sheheen said that the "standardized testing obsession" needs to be changed.

Kids in poorer school districts should have the same opportunities as children in wealthy districts, Sheheen said.

"It is just immoral that our children's opportunity depends on where they were born. I want us to move toward having real equity in public education," he said.

The state could pay a teacher wage that would give an incentive to work in poorer districts, he said.

He called for more input from teachers through creation of a Teachers Council.

Sheheen, a state senator from Camden, said his "Back to Basics" initiative is an effort to place a priority on things that can be done on a practical level to improve South Carolina's education system.

He is challenging Gov. Nikki Haley this fall, along with independent candidate Tom Ervin and Libertarian candidate Steve French.

During the roundtable, Sheheen criticized Haley for a lack of commitment to the state's school system.

"We need a governor who is going to support public education all the time," he said.

In response, Haley spokeswoman Chaney Adams said that the governor developed a sweeping school reform package which won widespread praise from educators. The effort received bipartisan support that led to its passage earlier this year.

"The Haley education reforms will lift up students in all parts of our state, especially in traditionally overlooked rural and poor areas, with a critical focus on reading skills and technology," Adams said.

"Gov. Haley has proven that she makes a difference for students, parents, and teachers, and we welcome Senator Sheheen's support," she said.

Haley's education plan includes an additional $180 million in spending for K-12 education. It allocates more money to students in poor, rural districts without taking money away from other districts that can better equip classrooms through local property taxes.

Changes include a first-ever weighting for poverty, which translates to an additional $97 million spent on students who qualify for free meals. It also spends 20 percent more on children whose primary language isn't English, officials said.

Other elements include $30 million to hire additional reading coaches in elementary schools and $29 million to improve Internet and wireless capabilities in schools. The state will fully cover the cost of a reading coach for several hundred elementary schools where a substantial number of students score poorly on standardized reading tests. The coaches will be partially funded at others. Technology money will be distributed to districts based on their poverty rating.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711