published Friday, December 17th, 2010

School worker bonuses tabled

by Kelli Gauthier

Teachers and school system employees won't get a bonus in time for Christmas this year.

After a heated discussion over how best to spend federal grant money, the Hamilton County Board of Education voted Thursday night to table the discussion of one-time $400 and $500 bonuses for all school system employees.

"I know teachers work hard, but so do I," said board member Rhonda Thurman, who voted to table the item. "I have received many letters from people asking me to support this bonus. ... I'm sorry, but given the economic times, I just think this is foolhardy."

Most of the $2.5 million cost of the bonuses is left over from a federal jobs stimulus package. Because that money only can be used for classroom-based expenses, Superintendent Jim Scales had suggested taking $350,000 from the general purpose budget to give bonuses to classified employees.

"These funds must be used by September of 2012, and we could use it for pension funds, to rehire teachers who have been dismissed, for bonuses or put it into retirement accounts," Scales said. "Because our teachers and principals have been under quite a bit of stress with implementing the new standards over the last few years, we thought it would be good to provide a bonus."

Since the federal money cannot be used for operations costs or to buy property, board member Mike Evatt suggested shuffling it back into the general purpose budget to free up money to acquire land for new schools.

"It would put us a step ahead of the County Commission," said Evatt, who made the motion to table the bonus discussion.

Board member Jeffrey Wilson, who was in favor of giving the bonuses, said the issue came down to whether board members valued people or property.

"There will never be enough money. ... There's always something else the school board could do with the money, but I value the employees," he said. "This money is not going to solve the world's problems, but it's a token gesture to that person."

Afterwards, representatives with the Hamilton County Education Association said they thought the fact that information about the potential bonuses had been discussed in the media before board members knew about it affected the vote.

"Everyone is disappointed in this vote; we feel the teachers got caught in the middle," said Rhonda Catanzaro, a local liaison with the Tennessee Education Association. "If the board had a problem with the way the superintendent handled the bonus, they should take it up with him."

Catanzaro said she hopes the board will revisit the issue.

"It's been tabled; that's good news," she said. "I'd rather it be tabled than voted down."

Contact staff writer Kelli Gauthier at 757-6249 or

about Kelli Gauthier...

Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...

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TeacherinHC said...

This is what happens when you put a hairdresser instead of a real educator on the school board. It's not about how hard she works, it's about supporting and affirming this county's educators. We're not teasing hair & putting in highlights-we're training future generations of leaders.

Thanks a lot, District 1. Merry Christmas.

December 17, 2010 at 6:42 a.m.
ordinaryguy said...

And just how many school board members are "educators"? That is not a valid point! What gives you the right to look down on Mrs. Thurman's profession? I am glad my children are not being educated by you. Rhonda was ELECTED to this position by the people of her district, they realize she is the only one on this board who does not look down on someone because of their profession, unlike you.

December 17, 2010 at 10:48 a.m.
mnmoniz said...

Whether or not Ms. Thurman personally receives a bonus at Christmas is irrelevant. Educators are required to have more education than a typical hair stylist. People with more education typically make more money. Most people working in Corporate America (who have educational requirements similar to teachers) receive an annual bonus as well as a raise or at least a cost of living increase. To expect our educators to put up with less than their peers is ridiculous. This is why so many people who would truly enjoy teaching do not choose that profession - they simply can't afford it.

December 17, 2010 at 11:17 a.m.
TeacherinHC said...

Just Rhonda Thurman currently refusing to accept tips from any of her hair clients? If not, then why not? Why should she receive a gratuity above and beyond the predetermined wage for her services? Hasn't she previously stated that, in these tough economic times, teachers are "lucky enough to have a job?" Doesn't this argument apply to luxury service providers as well? Does Thurman dare deny Hamilton County educators a one-time bonus for their dedication and yet expect her clients to give her a bonus in recognition of her "hard work?"

Something tells me that she's not putting her own miserly rhetoric into practice.

December 17, 2010 at 11:55 a.m.
ordinaryguy said...

What makes you deserving of a "tip"?

December 17, 2010 at 12:52 p.m.
teacherandmom said...

While Rhonda Thurman may not have voted for the retirement plan bonus that all board members received earlier in the year - I certainly don't remember her complaining about receiving it. She didn't turn around and give that back to the schools in her district like other members who disagreed with the vote. She profited from an elected position, but yet does not want to reward those of us actually in the classrooms. The bonus that we would have received would have been a small amount which would have allowed many of us to purchase necessary supplies for our students.

December 17, 2010 at 2:08 p.m.
fairmon said...

There would be no issue if not for a federal government borrowing money to give grants. All grants, subsidies, incentives, deductions, reductions and exemptions are tools of federal political manipulation and should be abolished. Teachers that are not compensated consistent with their contribution should be and could be by reducing the fat at the central office.

Take a look at the number of administrative positions per teaching position, it should be comparable to a competitive business but it is much greater. Granted, those in those positions are a lot of motion, emotion, activity and they act so "stressed" but in most cases their contribution is nil. A professional study would result in at least a thirty percent reduction in administrative personnel with no loss in productivity.

December 17, 2010 at 7:51 p.m.
Oz said...

The vote was to 5 to 4. How do you blame Rhonda Thurman? Rhonda is 1 of 9. Everyday Math is ruining our teachers too.

December 17, 2010 at 8:13 p.m.
Oz said...

Everett Fairchild was an educator and he voted against the bonus. Did he become a hair stylist in retirement? I might not be aware of it?

Every time someone has an issue with Rhonda Thurman, they bring up her profession. Why? Hairdresser is an honorable profession. Almost every teacher uses a hair stylist. Keep bad mouthing hairdressers and our kids will be telling us how bad the teachers hair looks!

December 17, 2010 at 8:31 p.m.
SCOTTYM said...

Seeing as our students have consistently ranked at the very top of all the counties in the state, and at the top of the states in the nation, and at the top of the nations of the planet, the teachers absolutely deserve a bonus.

Bonuses are given for achievement beyond the expected.

Or, did I miss something?

"Why should she receive a gratuity above and beyond the predetermined wage for her services?"

First of all, you are ignoring a distinct difference between the private sector and the public sector.

Dollars that are earned by those in the private sector are willfully exchanged for the goods or services provided.

Every penny earned by public sector employees is taken, by force of law, from private citizens, whether or not they receive any personal benefit from that employee.

The amount taken from the taxpayer is NOT negotiable.

The amount paid in a private sector transaction IS negotiable.

If one believes the hairdresser has performed beyond expectations, one can pay extra.

If one believes the hairdresser has totally FUBARed one's head, one will not pay a penny, and may be entitled to damages.

What does one do when the teachers fail their objectives?(Oh yeah, bonuses all around!!)

Second, there is no "predetermined wage" for private sector employees. Private sector employees are paid in direct proportion to productivity and the prevailing wages of the local labor market.

Public sector employees are paid handsomely whether they are outstandingly productive, or plain old dead weight.

See the difference?

If not, go get a teaching job at a private school and see what happens to those teachers whose students consistently rank near the bottom of the charts.

Here's a hint, they don't get bonuses.

FWIW, some of the teachers in our system DO deserve every penny we pay them, and I thank them for their SERVICE TO THE COUNTRY. Too bad there are so many who think they deserve bonuses for merely showing up at their job in a PUBLIC SERVICE institution.

December 17, 2010 at 11:51 p.m.
MountainJoe said...

Hopefully the same five who just voted against the bonus will soon send Scales packing. I'd be all in favor of divvying up his salary and giving it as a bonus to actual classroom teachers (not central office bureaucrats).

December 18, 2010 at 9:16 a.m.
MountainJoe said...

P.S. I know Rhonda Thurman, and she has more sense (and a better command of the school system budget and other pertinent info) as a PHD (Professional Hair Dresser) than most of the PhD's I know. (And I know quite a few.) Just because she lacks a lot of formal education does not mean she is ignorant or stupid. Disagree with her if you want but don't for a minute look down on her.

December 18, 2010 at 9:20 a.m.
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