By Angie Mayes
Mt. Juliet News Correspondent
Between 2014-15 and 2017-18, Wilson County teacher salaries increased 6.3 percent, from $44,988 to $46,816, according to a new report from the Office of Research and Education Accountability.
The Lebanon Special School District raised salaries 9.8 percent, from $49,582 to $54,433, according to the report.
Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright said, “Teacher salaries have been increased in an effort to attract responsible, dedicated and highly qualified employees while retaining employees through longevity to build an experienced staff.”
She said an increase in teacher pay “is our top priority.” She said it’s one way to retain the teachers they have.
The numbers issued this week by the Office of Research and Education Accountability are average salaries among the school’s instructors.
“We do not work on a pay scale,” Wright said. “We offer a differentiated pay plan that allows teachers to receive yearly increases based on their level of effectiveness without reaching a salary cap. In 2014-15, teachers could receive a yearly increase of up to $750, and by 2017-18, that amount had increased to $900.”
Lebanon Director of Schools Scott Benson said compensating teachers is vitally important to the district.
“It is absolutely important that we retain the teachers. One way of doing that is by appropriate compensation of teachers,” Benson said. “Even though we rank No. 14 [on the state’s list of highest-paid districts] out of 145 school districts, we don’t pay enough to what they’re worth and what they contribute. One of the reasons we rank so high is our board has a longstanding commitment to appropriately compensating our teachers.”
The report said, “More than $300 million in new, recurring state dollars were appropriated by the General Assembly through the instructional salaries and wages category of the Basic Education Program, the state’s education funding formula, between 2016 and 2018.
The legislative intent for the appropriations was to increase teacher salaries across the state, according to the report.
“Some legislators have expressed concerns that state dollars have had less effect in improving teachers’ salaries than expected, however,” the report said.
The purpose of the report was to address questions raised by former Speaker Beth Harwell, Senate Education Committee chair Delores Gresham and Sen. Brian Kelsey regarding “how much new state funding was used to raise teacher salaries; to what degree districts concurrently increased local funding for teachers or relied on the influx of new state money to provide teacher raises, and how much new state and local funding was used for purposes other than raising teacher salaries such as hiring new teachers; enhancing benefits for teachers already employed; or funding teacher aides, assistants or similar support positions, and whether districts used state funding for teacher salaries for unallowable purposes.”
Districts were most likely to give raises by increasing the district salary schedule, which, in most districts, sets base pay for all teachers at specified education and experience levels, the report said.
“One-time bonuses and across-the-board raises outside of the salary schedule were also used by districts to increase teacher pay,” according to the report. “Because of the variation within and across districts in how they awarded raises in different years and which staff received raises in different years, the survey did not collect data on the number of raises awarded.”
Neither Wilson County nor LSSD offer bonuses to their teachers. Wilson County’s increases are performance driven, Wright said. The LSSD increases are based on years of experience and degrees and the percentage raise on an annual basis, Benson said.
The BEP formula allocates staff positions based on a ratio of enrolled students. For example, for every 25 fourth-grade students, the formula allocates one classroom teacher position. More students will result in more positions. More positions, generated by more students, results in a larger funding allocation, the report said.
The Office of Research and Education Accountability’s fall 2018 survey reported awarding salary increases to teachers for three consecutive years in 2016, 2017 and 2018, which resulted in a 6-percent increase in average classroom salaries statewide.
Wilson County Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall said teachers have received an increase every year since his employment in 1993, according to Wright. Last year, the Wilson County Board of Education asked for a 12.5-percent increase, but the Wilson County Commission voted it down because of the tax increase that would have been needed to fund it.
LSSD has increased its salaries, as well.
“Steve Jones, our board chair, has been on the LSSD board since 1988,” Benson said. “Our teachers have had a raise every single year he’s been on the board. When I was assistant director and did our budget, it was ingrained in me to give raises. That’s what we look at first, to give the employees and teachers a raise.”
Districts used increased state salary funding to add instructional positions, in addition to provide pay raises, as allowed by the state statutes concerning the BEP, the report said. “The share of new state salary funding spent on adding instructional staff versus increasing salaries for staff already employed could not be determined.
“Total local revenue budgeted for school districts increased at about the same rate as BEP state revenue, but salary expenditures – whether for new hires or raises – could not be linked back to their revenue source, either state or local,” the report said.
The Tennessee Department of Education found for the past three years, all districts have complied with a 2016 state law that requires districts to maintain their budgeted level of local funding for salaries and wages from the prior year, and to not use increases in state BEP instructional salaries and wages funding to offset local expenditures in the categories.
‘The majority of districts reported giving a raise to teachers for three consecutive years, from 2016 through 2018,” according to the report. “In each of the three years, from 2016 through 2018, 88 districts reported giving a raise to teachers, representing 68 percent of the 140 districts surveyed. In 2015, when the state did not provide new state instructional salaries funding, 68 districts reported giving raises to teachers. Following the first year of additional state funding in 2016, the number of districts that reported giving raises increased to 98.
“In the two years following increased state funding for instructional salaries, 2017 and 2018, the number of districts that reported giving raises held steady, at around 96 districts. One district reported giving no raises over the four-year period,” the report said.
The percentage of raises for both Wilson County and LSSD for the upcoming school year will be known during the respective budget processes this year.
Districts reported their teacher raises in a fall 2018 survey conducted by the Office of Research and Education Accountability. A total of 103 districts or 74 percent responded. Districts that did not respond to the survey may have also given raises. The Office of Research and Education Accountability’s survey asked districts about raises they gave to instructional employees, most of which were classroom teachers, but it also included other licensed school staff such as principals and guidance counselors.
Both LSSD and Wilson County responded to the survey. In fact, Hall had many discussions and clarifications with the Office of Research and Education Accountability last fall, Wright said.
Between 2015 and 2018, Tennessee’s average classroom salary increased 6.2 percent, or about $2,979, from $47,979 to $50,958. The growth made Tennessee the third fastest-growing state in the Southeast for instructional teacher salaries, behind North Carolina and Georgia.
State Rep. Clark Boyd guided a bill designed to improve transparency in the state’s education system through the state House, and it also passed the Senate.
The measure – which was part of Gov. Bill Lee’s legislative package this year – requires local education agencies to report to the Department of Education how additional funds are used each year a Local Education Agency receives increased funding from the state for salaries and wages.
“Our teachers work tirelessly to solidify the academic foundations of Tennessee’s current and future leaders,” said Boyd, R-Lebanon. “We must ensure they are receiving the salaries and pay increases they have earned. I am proud to have carried this bill, which will increase transparency on the subject of teacher pay.”
House Bill 946 ensures taxpayer funding allocated to schools is used responsibly and to support educators, according to Boyd.
The bill went to Lee’s desk to be signed into law.