The Tennessee Organization of Schools Superintendents this week named Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith its 2014 Southeast Tennessee Superintendent of the Year.
Hamilton County teachers are voting on a proposed across-the-board salary increase of 3 percent, plus a one-time bonus of 1 percent - the same proposal school board members will vote on next week.
The school board's finance committee met Wednesday to discuss the shape of the budget, which had higher-than-expected revenues and lower-than-expected expenses, said Christie Jordan, the system's director of accounting and budgeting.
Administrators have met with the teachers union several times over recent months to negotiate a possible salary hike. They've offered the union the 3 percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2013. If approved, it would put a starting teacher's salary with a bachelor's degree at $36,044. At the top of the pay scale, a teacher with 25 or more years of experience and a doctorate degree would earn $63,247 annually.
The $6.6 million recurring cost of the raises and $2.2 million for the one-time bonus will come from several savings in the school system's $393 million annual budget. The system will get $1 million each from a reduction in utility costs and a reduction in more seniored teachers, which cost more than new hires. Other savings came from a reduction in the district's leave of absence account and a decrease in the employer-paid Social Security costs because of increased insurance deductions. The board is also looking at dipping into its reserve funds, using $1.1 million for the raise and $2.2 million for the bonuses.
Finance panel Chairman David Testerman said he understands the hesitancy of some board members to pay for recurring expenses like raises out of a one-time funding source like the district's savings account. But he said the projections of administrators -- like those predicting continued savings on utilities -- offer comfort to go ahead with the proposal.
"There's a fine balance in paying for a necessary raise for teachers and justifying how we're going to do it," he said.
Board member Jeffrey Wilson said he wants to give teachers the raise. But the discussion highlights an underlying problem with the district's funding.
"This is the right thing to do: the salary [increases] and the bonuses," he said "But we don't have enough money at the end of the day to run this system."
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