Teacher pay raises down but not out

Jared Felkins • Aug 9, 2018 at 7:23 PM

If Wilson County teacher pay raises were a prizefighter, they’d get a standing eight count right about now – still a possibility to win but more of a long shot at this point.

“We are going to look at some ways to get teachers a raise,” said Commissioner Jeff Joines, who serves on the Wilson County Education Committee. 

Commissioners have said a 4-percent pay increase, coupled with the 2 percent currently budgeted, would increase salaries by 6 percent and get pay rates about halfway to the goal. But funding a proposed new high school in Mt. Juliet with a $107 million price tag has garnered more attention among commissioners during the budget process than teacher raises this year.

It’s expected that funding for both the new high school and teacher pay increases will be decided at the Wilson County Commission’s Aug. 20 meeting at 7 p.m. in commission chambers at the Wilson County Courthouse.

The Education Committee approved an additional 4-percent pay increase for classroom teachers to be funded without a tax increase at a July 23 joint meeting with the Budget Committee. The Budget Committee voted to receive the budget and pay raise recommendation at that meeting and approved the budget during a meeting Monday with little discussion about teacher pay raises.

Wilson County finance director Aaron 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 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 left about $1.1 million remaining, but Maynard said county departments submitted about $2 million in needs. 

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 said. “We gave the school system their growth money, its 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 recurring funds would be needed to give teachers a 4-percent raise.

The 4-percent raise approved by the Education Committee in July is 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 recurring funds would be needed to fund a 12.5-percent pay increase for teachers.

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.

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.

Commissioner Diane Weathers has said she 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 has 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.”

The schools budget approved by the Budget Committee on Monday includes 2 percent more money in its proposed budget for classroom teachers, and it would 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. About 83 percent of teachers are eligible to receive pay increases based on last year’s performance.

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. 

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