Hamilton County teachers could see a 5% pay bump if additional school funding is approved

Pay raise hinges on approval of additional funds from county

East Lake Elementary School principal Joyce Lancaster leads a group of potential teacher candidates on a tour of East Lake Elementary School Friday, January 18, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Hamilton County Schools is holding school preview, tour days and first-round interviews with interested candidates as the school system prepares for recruiting teachers for the 2019-2020 school year.
photo East Lake Elementary School principal Joyce Lancaster shows a group of potential teacher candidates one way teachers measure progress at East Lake Elementary School Friday, January 18, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The group was given a tour of several Opportunity Zone schools Friday.

Employees of one of Hamilton County's largest employers might be getting a 5% pay raise next year.

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson has proposed a 5% pay raise for teachers in his proposed $443 million budget for 2020.

But Johnson's proposal isn't limited to raising pay for current teachers - it also includes consolidating the district's salary step schedule and increasing entry-level salaries in order to recruit and retain early-career teachers.

"We are losing out on new teachers because they see they can get five, six, seven-thousand more in some of our surrounding counties or even North Georgia," said District 9 board member Steve Highlander. "And we are losing some of our more experienced teachers as well."

In 2018-2019, Hamilton County ranked 29th in the state when it came to starting salaries for first-year teachers with a bachelor's degree. The district's $39,592 salary meant that sometimes it lost teachers to surrounding districts, like Bradley County and Cleveland City, or even across the state line to North Georgia school districts.

Cleveland City Schools was ranked 12th last year, with a starting salary of $41,503 a year, and Bradley County wasn't far behind with a starting salary of $41,395.

Hamilton County wants to raise the district's minimum salary to $41,625, but that is subject to whether the district gets the additional $34 million budget increase that Johnson is requesting from the Hamilton County Commission.

Hamilton County Education Association (HCEA) President Jeanette Omarkhail said it's time for the community to rally around public education and educators.

"If we want to say we want to be the fastest growing school district, if we want to be well-known in the state for achievement, we have to have the best education system," she said. "People say, 'I already paid my way,' my answer is 'Who paid for you?' We have to pay it forward and fund education now."

School board members met Thursday night to discuss Johnson's proposal ahead of their May 9 vote.

"There's nothing in there [the budget] that isn't for the benefit of the students and the school system. If we don't get anything else, we need a 5% raise for teachers," Highlander said. "The single most important factor for every child's learning achievement is the teacher in the classroom."

The proposed 5% encompasses the 2.5% promised by Gov. Bill Lee in his own budget, which was approved by the Tennessee Legislature on Wednesday.

State funding toward pay raises only comes out to about 1.7%, said Brent Goldberg, the district's chief business officer. Raises are calculated based on the state's own salary schedule and local districts don't receive funding for teachers beyond the number required by the state's Basic Education Plan (BEP) funding formula. The BEP plan does not fund 500 Hamilton County teachers.

Tennessee has spent more than $300 million on teacher compensation since 2015, but some teachers haven't seen a raise at the local level, according to a new report by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury.

Johnson's proposed budget would ensure all teachers in Hamilton County saw a 5% increase in wages.

Deanne Mulder said she hopes the county commission grants the district additional funding. She's a teacher at Soddy Daisy Middle School and her husband is also a teacher.

If they both received a raise at the same time, it would make a big difference, she said.

"We don't get promotions like other industries. For us both to get a raise, it would be great," she said. "We spend so much money out of our own pockets too, that it would mean a lot."

The district's budget proposal includes a 4% pay raise for classified employees - like cafeteria workers, maintenance, support staff and substitutes. Teachers, or certified staff, schedules will increase from 201 to 203 paid days a year.

Teachers will be required to attend 15 hours of professional development or training during those extra two days. Many don't seem to mind.

"We believe that it is extremely important from the top level to the student, that we are a learning organization," said Chief Schools Officer Justin Robertson. "And if we are going to expect you to be a professional educator, we think it is important that we pay you."

Omarkhail said these changes were a result of "truly collaborative" conferencing between the teacher's union and the district's staff, particularly the human resources department and Chief Talent Officer Keith Fogleman.

Since Johnson hired Fogleman in January 2018, he has revamped the HR department and put an emphasis on recruiting top teachers and retaining staff. The department has rolled out a number of initiatives to support first-year teachers, including hiring new teacher coaches and launching a mentoring program. It also updated the district's salary schedule so teachers will receive pay increases during their first three years.

The department is also launching other programs, such as low-cost employee health clinics, in an effort to better support teachers.

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