A legislative proposal to ditch the state-mandated teacher pay scale isn't a move aimed at hurting teachers, Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday.
As part of his 55-bill legislative agenda, the governor wants to abolish Tennessee's mandated teacher pay schedule which, like many states, includes built-in raises for seniority and education.
Instead, he wants school districts to be able to offer pay increases to those teaching in hard-to-staff schools or hard-to-fill subject areas such as math and science.
"Right now, the only way you get more money as a teacher is you work a year longer or you get a master's degree," Haslam said Friday during a Times Free Press editorial board meeting.
Haslam's plan received immediate criticism from the Tennessee Education Association, the state's largest teachers union. Earlier in the week, TEA President Gera Summerford called it a "radical proposal" and a "blatant attack on Tennessee's public schools."
Responding to the criticism, the Republican governor said his plan would allow districts to pay teachers more by freeing up restrictions from the pay scale. But he said none would make less than their current salaries, and districts could continue to set salaries according to the current scale.
"Tell me how that's beating up on teachers," he said.
While Haslam specifically mentioned higher pay for hard-to-staff schools and subjects, the actual bill makes no such distinction.
In her statement, Summerford said the proposal "unfairly ties teacher pay to an evaluation system that has not been proven valid or reliable." She said teachers would be unfairly paid based on student test scores, which aren't always within an instructor's control.
Haslam's press secretary David Smith said the bill leaves discretion to local districts on how to pay teachers, and they could base decisions on performance or on hard-to-fill areas.
"It's basically giving districts flexibility," Smith said.
Because of the expected savings from not funding raises based on experience and education, Haslam said his bill won't cost the state any extra dollars.
Sandy Hughes, president of the Hamilton County Education Association, TEA's local affiliate, said the current state salary formula provides financial stability to teachers, which helps teachers make financial plans and determine whether or not to seek more advanced degrees.
"The system we have gives you a baseline," she said. "If you achieve certain credentials, this gives a base pay. It says for this much education and this much experience, you will receive this much money."
If districts or principals are able to set individual salaries, Hughes worries the process would become too subjective, and pay could increase and decrease annually.
"From year-to-year, your circumstances would be totally tenuous," she said. "It would be hard to buy a home or create a family budget."
Hughes also noted that some school systems, including Hamilton County, already offer bonuses for teachers in tough-to-fill areas. Teachers making adequate student performance gains in hard-to-staff Hamilton County schools are eligible for annual bonuses of up to $5,000.
The district also offers teacher retention bonuses of up to $10,000.
Those bonuses are all contingent upon the availability of annual funding.
Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith said he supports increased salaries for teachers, but isn't yet sure on how the governor's plan would be implemented locally.
"Teachers deserve more money," Smith said. "For us, we would have to go back in and completely redo our teacher salary scale. Of course, we haven't had time to look at that yet."
In Hamilton County, teachers and the district are committed to two more years of the current salary schedule because of a three-year teacher contract approved last school year.