published Friday, August 16th, 2013

Hamilton County Schools teacher raises still up in air

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith
Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith

The fate of a proposed raise for Hamilton County's teachers remains under wraps after school board members discussed the issue in a closed-door meeting Thursday night.

In June, the board instructed Superintendent Rick Smith to explore a 3 to 5 percent raise for teachers after Smith got a $25,000 salary bump. And with negotiations wrapping up between administrators and the teachers union, the superintendent met with board members Thursday to discuss what kind of raise, if any, teachers would be offered, and where the funding would come from.

The union has asked for a 4 percent increase in base salaries, which currently range from about $35,000 to about $61,000 annually, depending on years of experience and degrees attained.

While board members huddled in a closed session for about an hour, many of the hundred or so teachers at the meeting grew impatient. Teachers rhythmically clapped and stomped. And some chanted: "What do we want? 4 percent! When do we want it? Now!"

Teachers, who wore green ribbons and green shirts representing the money they were requesting, said the incremental raises between 1 and 2.33 percent received in three of the past five years didn't even cover the rising costs of health insurance.

Union members said a 4 percent raise is enough to be significant, yet not too much to be unrealistic.

"Four percent would be helpful. Honestly, more would be better," said Gil Highlander, a geology teacher at Soddy-Daisy High School. "But we think we're making a very reasonable request."

Many board members agree a raise is warranted, though it's still not clear what amount would be doable.

"I'm all for giving them a raise. I just want to be sure we can give them a meaningful one," said board member Joe Galloway.

In an address to board members, Hamilton County Education Association President Sandy Hughes pointed to a July payroll snafu, in which direct deposits were delayed for some 3,700 teachers and other staff members. While most teachers got their checks within a day or so, she said the missed paycheck put many teachers in a tight spot.

"It seemed shocking to some that our teachers are living paycheck-to-paycheck," she said.

Earlier in the day, Hughes brought her case to the Hamilton County Commission, which funds the county school system.

"I'm willing to beg," she said. "These people need a raise."

But commissioners said they wouldn't offer any additional funding to the school system, that the school system needs to make do with the funds it already has.

"Once we turn over the money, we have no control, no say," said Commissioner Joe Graham. "And they make it very obvious that we have no control, no say over how the money is spent."

Commissioners listed an array of complaints with the school system, including an inefficient central office, copy paper shortages and underutilized school buildings.

"I agree with you, Mrs. Hughes. The money should be redirected to the principals and the classrooms. I agree 100 percent," said Commissioner Tim Boyd. "And I want to see that. I want the school board to be conscious of it."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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