For $33,650 — the price of a half-million No. 2 pencils — the Charleston County School District is broadcasting its love for teachers on billboards during the month of May.
Printed in a white all-cap serif font on a blue background, the billboards carry a simple message: "Charleston County School District Thanks Our Teachers!"
The district paid for six billboards in all, including traditional and digital signs that face both directions along Interstate 26.
The funding came out of the Office of Strategy and Communications' $125,000 advertising budget. The signs went up May 6, said spokesman Andy Pruitt.
"This was a way to highlight our teachers as part of National Teacher Appreciation Week," Pruitt said in an email.
The timing of the signs was also shortly after the May 1 teacher protest, which saw 10,000 teachers and education advocates march on the Statehouse demanding better teaching and learning conditions.
The school district remained open during the protest despite 19 percent of its teachers requesting substitutes that day.
Sarah Jacobs, a mother of two students in the Charleston County School District, said she passed one of the billboards recently and felt it was a slap in the face to teachers.
"This is grandstanding for the sake of PR," Jacobs said. "If they truly appreciated our teachers, they would have issued an official statement to that effect as well as in support of the walk-out on May Day."
The school district is in the process of raising teachers' pay, aiming to get the starting salary up to $40,000 in the fall of 2020, with additional incentives to teach math in some high-demand schools.
Charleston County is nearly keeping pace with the other top-paying districts in the state. Rock Hill Schools will set its starting pay at $39,899 this fall, and Greenville County Schools — the state's largest district — recently approved a $40,000 starting salary for this fall.