When Wilson County Board of Education member Tom Sottek proposed a 12.5-percent pay raise for teachers in May, it sent shockwaves throughout the county.
“When you look at where teacher average pay is, we’re nearly [$4,000], almost $5,000 below the state average. To get us at or above the state average, I would like to make a recommendation to increase teacher pay by 12.5 percent,” board member Tom Sottek said at the May board meeting amid cheers from the audience. “To clarify, I know that sounds like a lot, but the reality is that our per-pupil expenditure for our county, when you take our total budget and divide it by 18,000 students, is $8,380. We would only be increasing our per-pupil expenditure by $500 per student.”
Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright asked the board to approve a 5-percent raise for all certified staff before Sottek upped the ante.
Sottek said the increase would still place the district about $1,200 behind the state’s per-pupil average expenditure, as well as average expenditures in Sumner, Robertson and Williamson counties. But it would put Wilson County teacher pay about $4,000 above the state average.
“We’re not asking for the moon here. We’re asking for $500 per student,” Sottek said.
The increase is the board’s top priority on its needs assessment presented to the Wilson County Commission. Sottek said he hopes the commission will research and give options on how to fund the increase. The Wilson County Board of Education can’t implement or raise taxes, and it can’t submit a budget to the commission that’s not fully funded, according to state law.
How it got to this point
The proposed budget Wilson County Schools sent to the commission for approval doesn’t include the 12.5-percent teacher pay raise because state law won’t allow the budget to include expenditures without the available revenue.
The district has 2 percent more money in its budget for classroom teachers, and it will be disbursed based on the teacher pay plan. It includes 1.5 percent for teacher 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.
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.
News on the county front
When the Wilson County Education and Budget committees meet in a joint meeting Monday at 5 p.m. in commission chambers at the Wilson County Courthouse, it’s possible teacher raises will be proposed to increase from 2 percent to 6 percent, possibly funded through the county’s growth fund. The commission also plans to meet Thursday at 5 p.m. in a budget work session, where the issue could be further discussed.
“We want to try to get them halfway to where they need to be,” said Commissioner Jeff Joines, who serves on the Wilson County Education Committee. “Our teachers and school employees have gotten our schools to some of the best in the state. We have some of the best scores in the state. We have one of the best graduation rates in the state. They have done so much for us. It’s time we do something for them. They deserve it. The raises for teachers are a legitimate need.”
Commissioner Becky Siever, who also serves on the Education Committee and as principal at Byars Dowdy Elementary School in the Lebanon Special School District, said she’s also heard plans for a proposed 4-percent added teacher raise.
“I’ve heard nothing official, but I have heard that,” Siever said. “We have these meetings coming up, and I hope we hear more. I’ve heard some rumors about that. I hope we can do something for our hard-working teachers. I’m anxious to see the revenue source and what the powers that be have come up with. We’ve got to be open to look at everything we can and do the right thing.”
Commissioner Annette Stafford also serves on the Education Committee and would like the commission to look at possible tax increases other than property tax to get a pay raise for teachers. She said possibilities could include increases in the adequate facilities tax, county sales tax or wheel tax.
“I’ve heard the same thing, and I would do everything we possibly can to get the teachers a pay raise,” Stafford said. “I would love to see the finance director give us a way for not only the teachers, but also all the county employees to get a pay raise. I don’t know what it should be, but I would like for it to be competitive with surrounding counties. I would like all of the commissioners to come together and find a support system for the schools. If the growth is driving the issue, the growth should help fund it.”
Commissioner Diane Weathers also supports a pay increase for teachers. Don Weathers, her husband, served on the school board for 12 years until 2016.
“Yes, they need more money,” Weathers said. “They need to get up to speed. I’ve never heard of anyone in the private sector or anywhere who gets a 12.5 percent pay raise. I do think they will be looking for something for teachers, but I don’t think they will get the whole 12.5 percent. There was talk about us to give 4 percent, so I would support that. With the 2 percent, that would get them halfway to where they need to be.”
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 growth fund
Maynard said the projected growth fund will include 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 include $1.9 million to Wilson County Schools, which is 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 leaves about $1 million left over, but Maynard said county departments have submitted about $2 million in needs.
“If they don’t give that [$1.9 million] to us, we will have to bring our budget back and discuss how we adjust that,” Hall said. “The commission has been really good in letting us keep our growth money in the past.”
Why 12.5 percent?
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 15thin 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.
But Sottek said he had another funding gap in mind when it comes to overall Wilson County teacher pay.
“Wilson County pays 100 percent of individual premiums, but when a family member is added, it then becomes 50 percent,” Sottek said. “Surrounding districts have funding to pay up to 80 percent of family coverage. If we as a district did the same, we would need funding for all full-time employees to cover the remaining 30 percent of the missing 80 percent. That’s $3,969 more in funding per full-time employee.”
Also, other Wilson County employees outside of the school district each have $11,387 in health insurance premiums paid annually by the county. Maynard said family insurance coverage is about $200 per month for each of the nearly 670 full-time county employees outside the school district.
According to Hall, for all positions generated under the Basic Education Program, the state funds $4,519 of the $6,615 yearly medical insurance premium. Wilson County has about 200 certified positions not generated by BEP, and the state does not fund any premiums for these 200 positions. Hall said there was a decrease in premiums within the last four years.
“There’s never been a good way to merge the two plans,” Maynard said. “Someone may find a way to do it over time.”
What a 12.5 percent raise looks like
According to Wilson County finance director Aaron 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 was 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.
“The whole setup of education in Tennessee is dysfunctional, because you have an elected school board with no taxing authority and no funding authority,” Maynard said. “The bottom line is they have to have us for funding, and we need them to tell us how to spend it.
“There’s no way anyone has an appetite or a desire to do a property tax increase. We did a significant one a few years ago. If it came down to a property tax increase, it would boil down to it going to the new school and not raises for teachers.
“The number [Wilson County Schools] are throwing out there is a 97-percent teacher retention rate. If they have that, how in the world would we fund teacher raises when there is so much overcrowding in Mt. Juliet and a new school is needed?”
Wilson County teachers by comparison…
Sottek said a 12.5-percent teacher pay increase would increase the average teacher pay in Wilson County to above the state average.
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 55thin the state, according to the most recent figures.
By comparison, Lebanon Special School District’s average teacher salary was $52,836 and ranked 16thin the state. Murfreesboro City Schools came in at 19thwith $52,562, Davidson County was 22ndwith $51,855, Williamson County was 26thwith $51,295, Rutherford County was 31stwith $50,559 and Sumner was 68thwith $46,988.
When directors of schools’ salaries are compared, however, Wilson County Schools ranked much higher. Wilson County came in at 18thon the list at $165,000, which is just more than $45,000 higher than the state average. Davidson County topped the list at $337,000, Williamson County was third at $260,000, Sumner County was sixth at $191,646, Rutherford County was 21stat $149,248, Lebanon Special School District was 27that $141,755 and Murfreesboro was 57that $117,832.
When former Director of Schools Mike Davis resigned in December 2012, he was paid just more than $125,000 annually. Former Director of Schools Tim Setterlund negotiated a $165,000 annual salary when he was hired in May 2013. Setterlund parted ways with Wilson County Schools in January 2014. In December 2013, deputy directors of academics, talent management and student services with a salary of $120,000 each were added to the existing deputy director of finance. A deputy director in special education was added to the proposed budget for next year with a median $85,000 salary.
Wright was hired in May 2014, and her starting annual pay was $155,000 plus incentives. Wright’s current salary is $175,000.
Among principal salaries, Wilson County was also higher than the state average by about $4,000 at $90,542, which ranked 27thin the state. Williamson County topped the list at $112,518, Davidson County was ninth at $103,445, Lebanon Special School District was 21stat $92,217, followed by Rutherford County at $91,962, Murfreesboro was 33rdat $88,215 and Sumner County was 35that $85,660.
Wilson County assistant principals earn about $80,000 annually.
But teacher salaries alone paint only part of the picture. Wilson County Schools budgets about $65,000 per teacher, which accounts for health insurance premiums and potential incentive pay increases. Wilson County Schools offers its own health insurance policy to teachers and other full-time employees and pays the individual premium, which comes to $6,615 per year. When added to the average salary, that increases the total teacher package to $54,664. Other expenses such as Medicare, Social Security, life insurance, etc. make up the difference. The addition of a spouse and/or children effectively doubles the premium, and teachers who opt in for family coverage have to pay $6,615 out of pocket each year, which comes to about $551 per month on a 12-month pay period, but most teachers are on a 200-day contract.
By comparison, Lebanon Special School District pays $5,982 in health insurance premiums for its teachers, which increases its total teacher package to $59,436. But LSSD also requires teachers to pay about $894 annually in annual health insurance premiums, which takes its total package to $58,542. Rutherford County pays $9,636 for insurance, which increases its total teacher package to $60,438, but individual health insurance costs employees $1,070, so the total package goes to $59,368. Williamson County pays $9,500 for insurance, which increases its total package to $60,849 with no out of pocket for teachers. Davidson County’s net individual coverage brings its average total teacher package to $56,362. Sumner County’s net individual coverage brings its average total teacher package to $52,507.
The Lebanon Special School District approved a 2-percent raise across the board Thursday, which has happened each year since 1988. The additional pay does not include step raises, step raises for advanced degree holders or longevity pay for employees who have worked for the district for 21 years or more.
Lebanon schools hired 20 new teachers and added three new teaching positions with two new positions to be determined. It also added an additional nurse and raised coaching supplements.