By Angie Mayes
Special to Mt. Juliet News
Wilson County teachers won’t get an additional raise this year, following the Wilson County Commission’s vote Aug. 20 to strike it down.
Commissioner Jeff Joines made the motion and argument to give teachers additional pay. The measure was to take $1.5 million from the general fund to give teachers an additional 2-percent raise.
County finance director Aaron Maynard said if the money was taken out of the budget, after the commission voted to take $1 million out of the general fund and $500,000 from the special-funded school tax, it would cause the county to “be in the red” in terms of finances.
Commissioners who voted to take the $1.5 million out for teachers were Becky Siever, Terry Scruggs, Sonja Robinson, Joines, Annette Stafford and Wendell Marlowe. Commissioners who voted against it were Bobby Franklin, Chad Barnard, Jerry McFarland, Kenny Reich, Frank Bush, Sara Patton, Dan Walker, John Gentry, Terry Ashe, Mike Justice, Diane Weathers, Gary Keith, Terry Muncher, William Glover, Sue Vanatta, Joy Bishop and Jim Emberton. Commissioner Adam Bannach abstained from voting.
The Wilson County Schools’ budget also approved by the commission Monday includes a 2-percent raise in the form of performance pay. The performance pay is typically based on principal evaluations and state testing results, but since state testing was hold harmless last year due to complications, test scores didn’t count against teachers. About 83 percent of teachers are eligible to receive pay increases based on last year’s performance.
The additional 2 percent mentioned Monday was an across-the-board pay increase for teachers, according to Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto.
Wilson County Schools received $1.9 million in growth money from the county, but used those funds for other purposes such as hiring more teachers and staff, among other things.
Hutto said the school system received the $1.9 million, $4.5 million in Basic Education Program funds and $650,000 in sales tax revenue. Hutto said the district could use that money for raises.
Wilson County Schools spokesperson Jennifer Johnson said the growth fund money is usually used to hire teachers to keep the student-teacher ratio at a reasonable number. She added the BEP and sales tax revenues got into the general operating budget for the school system.
“We have used that growth money for teacher raises in the past, but we have to be sure we’re getting those funds,” Johnson said. “The time we used those dollars was a one-time
Joines said Tuesday he thinks the $1.5 million would come out of the wrong fund.
“I made a motion to give 2-percent teachers a raise,” he said. “We’re really behind in raises. I hope that when new commission comes on board they find a way to really fund a substantial teacher raise. The teachers need it. We asked our teachers to make sure kids have a good education. The teachers go above and beyond. They’re holding up their end of the deal, and it’s time. I hope we can find a way in the future to make that happen.”
Maynard said the projected growth fund included about $5 million this year, which comes from added property tax revenues due to the county’s growth. He said since 2016, anytime growth is more than 3.5 percent, county employees automatically get a 1.5-percent raise and an additional .5 percent goes into the insurance fund for a 2-percent pay increase. The raises will be funded by about $750,000 from the growth fund. But that doesn’t apply to teachers.
Maynard also said other proposed plans for the growth fund this year included $1.9 million to Wilson County Schools, which was already included in the district’s proposed budget, $373,000 to Lebanon Special School District, about $300,000 to the Road Department, $107,000 to the Solid Waste Department and $510,000 to debt services. That left about $1.1 million remaining, but Maynard said county departments submitted about $2 million in needs.
The Wilson County Education Committee previously approved an additional 4-percent raise for classroom teachers at a July 23 joint meeting with the Budget Committee. That amount, it said at the time, could be funded without a tax increase.
Budget Committee chair Mike Justice said when all the needs were met that could be funded Monday night, there was about $42,000 left. He said he couldn’t see a way to fund a teacher pay increase without a tax increase of some sort.
“There wasn’t any growth money [left],” Justice previously said. “We gave the school system their growth money. It’s growth money. We didn’t take any growth away from the schools. They are getting all that growth.
“There were other departments that had needs, and we divided the remaining growth money among those other departments that submitted needs.”
Justice said the way Wilson County Schools included its growth funds in its proposed budget was odd, but it was approved, regardless.
“It’s kind of weird that they did that this year,” Justice said. “We had to kind of break it down in the budget meeting and pull it out to approve them separately, but the schools got all of their growth money.”
A proposal also surfaced recently to fund the teacher pay raises from the county’s general fund, but Justice said it wouldn’t work as a long-term solution.
“You could give them a one-time pay increase, but there’s not enough there to sustain it,” he said.
Based on the nearly $50 million currently budgeted for teacher salaries in Wilson County Schools’ proposed budget, an additional nearly $2 million in reoccurring funds would be needed to give teachers a 4-percent raise.
The 4-percent raise approved by the Education Committee in July was a far cry from the 12.5-percent pay increase proposed by Wilson County Board of Education member Tom Sottek and approved by the school board in May.
According to Maynard, nearly $9.4 million in reoccurring funds would be needed to fund a 12.5-percent pay increase for teachers.
Maynard said if it were funded solely through a property tax increase, it would add 23 cents to the 2.5189 total tax rate. A homeowner with a home valued at $200,000 in Wilson County currently pays $1,260 in property taxes, and the 12.5-percent raise would mean a $115 increase, according to Maynard.
According to the state Department of Education, the most recent figures available for the 2016-2017 school year showed the state average at $50,099. Wilson County’s average teacher pay came in at $48,049 and ranked 55th in the state, according to the most recent figures.
Sottek said he arrived at 12.5 percent mainly because the average $6,000 annual increase in teacher pay would increase the overall average to just more than $54,000, which is nearly $4,000 above the state average and would move Wilson County to 15th in the state just ahead of Lebanon Special School District, according to the most recent figures. Sottek said it would make Wilson County Schools significantly more competitive among neighboring school systems.
Since 2010, the Wilson County Commission has only increased property taxes once to fund a salary raise for teachers. It happened in 2016 when the commission approved an 8.1-cent property tax increase to generate $2.6 million annually. The money funded and continues to fund a pay increase of $1,000 annually for teachers with less than five years with the district, $2,000 increase for teachers with between six to nine years with the district and a $3,000 increase for teachers with 10 or more years with the district. A state Department of Education report showed teacher pay in 2015-2016 was $45,624 and $48,049 in 2016-2017, a $2,425 increase on average.