Hamilton County school board weighs pay raises against new positions as it works to tighten belt

Members weigh trading teacher pay increases for new support positions

The Hamilton County School Board meets during a Hamilton County Schools budget work session on Thursday, March 14, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.
The Hamilton County School Board meets during a Hamilton County Schools budget work session on Thursday, March 14, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Hamilton County school board members are exploring ways to still provide extra supports they say are needed for students and in the classroom while still sending a balanced budget to the Hamilton County Commission.

One of the possibilities being proposed is to cut the 2.5% raise for teachers in the most recent proposed fiscal year 2020 budget and use that $6 million toward support positions that had been cut from the proposal, such as special education teachers, reading interventionists for elementary schools and others.

Instead of the raise, district officials are exploring giving teachers a one-time bonus using about $8 million from the district's approximately $41 million fund balance. Teachers and eligible employees would still receive scheduled salary step increases.

Board member Tucker McClendon, of District 8, began tossing around the idea after Superintendent Bryan Johnson's team presented a revised budget proposal to the board on July 11. He and other board members have said that the feedback they are getting from teachers is that they want extra supports for their students that make it easier for them to do their jobs as much as they want a raise.

McClendon also said he hasn't seen the board "think outside the box" in terms of funding.

"Something the school board hasn't done is think outside the box and find solutions," he said. "That's what I'm trying to do is find solutions for as many issues as we can with the money we have without asking for more from the taxpayers."

Whether or not the proposal is viable and would work financially is yet to be seen.

Several board members said they would like to see more information from district administrators once the numbers have been crunched before deciding if they are in favor of the proposal.

Board Chairman Joe Wingate, of District 7, said he wanted to wait and hear from McClendon at Thursday's board work session and from Johnson's team to see if the idea is a viable option.

"I meant what I said last week when I said that I don't want us to continue focusing on things that we can't control. I want to work with people and be around people who are about trying to find solutions," Wingate said.

He complimented McClendon for putting in the time and effort to think creatively.

Jeanette Omarkhail, president of the Hamilton County Education Association - the local teachers' union - said that she had heard from school leaders, tossing around some options.

As far as taking away a pay raise for teachers, even if it was to fund support personnel, she said it would be a "hard sell."

"You're looking at pitting teachers against students. Taking this [raise] away for some will be deflating and will tell teachers that they are not valued. It won't be for all, but it will be for some who are already angry," she said.


The Hamilton County Board of Education will meet for a budget work session at 4:30 p.m. today , followed by its regularly scheduled July meeting at 5:30 p.m.Board meetings are open to the public and take place in the board room at the Department of Education’s central office at 3074 Hickory Valley Rd.

Even if the board decides this is the route it would like to go, it would still have to be approved by the teachers' union collaborative conferencing team.

When negotiating the contract earlier this year, the team agreed on a 3% raise, but is already scheduled to meet with district officials Friday morning to discuss some other changes that have been made since the district began revising its proposed budget.

The district has been forced to revise the original budget, approved on May 9, after the county commission voted down a 34-cent property tax rate increase to fund an additional $34 million for the school district.

If the original budget had passed, certified staff would have seen a 5% pay bump, including a 2.5% raise that Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has touted throughout the state budget process.

The school board will meet to discuss any changes to the budget and McClendon's proposal at a work session Thursday afternoon. It is slated to vote on the budget at a specially called session on July 25. It would then be sent back to the county commission for approval.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

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