Nashville teachers stage sickout after budget proposal

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - More than 1,000 Nashville public school teachers were absent on Friday, but no one seemed to be taking credit for an action the school district called a "'sick out' demonstration designed to bring awareness to teacher pay."

Erick Huth is president of the Metro Nashville Education Association. He said the sickout had nothing to do with the local teacher's union.

"This is a wildcat action as far as we're concerned," he said.

Friday's teacher absences of 1,093 reflected a 21 percent increase over absences on the same day last year, according to a fact sheet from Metro Nashville Public Schools. Of those, 536 were out for personal illness. The district has about 5,000 total teachers.

McGavock High School had the highest concentration of absences, with 125 of 141 teachers out for various reasons.

Schools spokesman Rob Johnson said the district sent a message to parents Thursday night letting them know that there could be staffing shortages. He said the district prepared for the absences and did not have to close any schools.

Earlier this week, Nashville Mayor David Briley proposed a $28.2 million increase for the schools, which could fund about a 3 percent raise for teachers. However, that proposal fell short of the $76.7 million increase requested by the school board.

Lauren Sorensen is one of the organizers of a new teacher coalition called TN Teachers United. She said her group did not organize the Nashville protest, and she doesn't know who did.

"It seems to be organic. It seems to have kind of come from teachers across Nashville who are tired of putting up with the nonsense," she said. "I don't know who's organizing it, but I'm awfully glad they are."

Part of the reason no one was taking credit for the action could be because it is illegal for teachers to strike in Tennessee, and teachers who participate in a strike can be fired.

The protest continues a wave of teacher activism that began last year in West Virginia and has spread to other states. Earlier this week, teachers in North Carolina rallied at the capitol asking for Medicaid expansion, extra pay for master's degrees, and a $15 minimum wage for support staff.

Teachers in South Carolina also converged on their statehouse this week, demanding money to reduce classroom sizes, solve a teacher shortage, hire counselors, and raise pay. And in Oregon teachers were planning a walkout next week.

Tennessee has yet to see the huge rallies that have drawn thousands of teachers in other states, although teacher concerns here generally mirror those of their colleagues around the country. They include low pay, lack of resources, and a focus on high stakes testing.

Sorensen said Tennessee teachers are also upset over a voucher bill passed earlier in the week that will send more state tax money to private schools.

"I think that the voucher bill probably sent them over the edge," she said of the protesting Nashville teachers.

In neighboring Kentucky, Gov. Matt Bevin has been harshly critical of teacher rallies at the Capitol. His administration issued subpoenas seeking the names of teachers who might have used sick days to attend rallies, causing some districts to cancel classes.