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The entrance to the offices of the Hamilton County Department of Education headquarters.

Hamilton County teachers will get their largest raise in five years after the Board of Education approved an across-the-board bonus and pay hike on Thursday.

Board members Jonathan Welch and Rhonda Thurman voted against the measure, which passed 7-2. The school system will give all employees a one-time bonus of 1 percent as well as a recurring salary increase of 3 percent, which is retroactive to July 1.

Welch said teachers need and deserve a raise. But with so much uncertainty in health insurance looming, he said he's concerned that the bonus and raise package, which cost the school system about $9 million this year, will set the school board up for future budget problems.

Hamilton County Schools has the richest insurance plan in the state, which Welch said should be talked about as part of employees' total compensation. Welch said it's likely teachers will see reductions in benefits once the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented. Plus, there are many other fiscal needs facing the school system, like technology upgrades and art teachers for elementary schools.

"I just think we're giving this raise without having a real discussion about the entire picture of what we want this education system to be," he said. "And I think we're doing the teachers a disservice where we're going to eventually knock benefits again."

East Lake Elementary teacher Pam Thompson said many teachers are aware of possible changes in health insurance. But she said the raises are much deserved and appreciated.

"This is something that's going to raise the morale of all the teachers," she said. "We haven't felt appreciated. And we deserve this, we really do."

Thurman said she didn't want to vote for the raises because administrators proposed taking $1.1 million out of savings to help pay for it. And unlike the $2.2 million for the bonuses that came from reserve funds, the raises will have to come out every year.

"I don't do this at my house. And if you do it at your house you're going to soon go broke," Thurman said. "It's just crazy to take one-time money for recurring expenses."

Thurman also points out the many needs the district has that go unaddressed, like Sale Creek Middle-High School, which is sorely lacking restroom facilities and houses all middle school students in portable trailers.

Hamilton County teachers received three raises over the last five years, ranging in value from 1 to 2.33 percent. In the private sector, salaries and wages increased 1.7 percent between June 2012 and 2013, the same as the increase in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at or 423-757-6249.