How much of a pay raise could Hamilton County teachers really see this year?

How much of a pay raise could Hamilton County teachers really see this year?

June 12th, 2019 by Meghan Mangrum in Local Regional News

Catherine Casselman, a second-grade teacher at East Side Elementary School, listens to students as they talk about a book they're reading in their after school book club at East Side Elementary on April 18.

Photo by Erin O. Smith

Hamilton County teachers likely won't see a 5% pay raise — and potentially no raise at all — if the county commission doesn't pass the current proposed budget.

District officials say the 5% pay bump isn't possible without the $34 million budget increase, and it's unclear if the 3% agreed on by the district and the local teachers' union through annual negotiations would be possible either.

The topic came up at Wednesday's commission meeting when District 3 Commissioner Greg Martin asked the schools' chief business officer, Brent Goldberg, to clarify information circulating about the pay raise.

Goldberg acknowledged he had spoken about a 3% pay raise at a community meeting hosted by Martin last week and said the district is "likely to pass it" even if its requested budget, which requires a 34-cent property tax rate increase to fund, is not passed.

"We agreed to a minimum of 3% and once we finalized the budget, we put 5% in," Goldberg told the Times Free Press. "If we do not get the money we asked for, we'd have to go back and reassess."

Negotiations during collaborative conferencing between unions such as the Hamilton County Education Association and the school district are contingent upon available funding under state law, Goldberg said, which means that a 3% raise is not set in stone.

The district will receive additional state BEP funding under Gov. Bill Lee's plan to give Tennessee teachers a 2.5% raise, but Goldberg said the district has more than 500 teachers who are not funded by BEP. Accounting for those teachers would mean the funding only amounts to a 1.3% raise for all Hamilton County teachers, he said.

Jeanette Omarkhail, president of HCEA, said the pay increase is not the only aspect of negotiations that is contingent on more funding. Unfreezing salaries for teachers in their first three years on the job, changing the step increase timeline and merging the district's five salary lanes into three were all also agreed upon and are part of Superintendent Bryan Johnson's proposed budget for fiscal year 2020.

"Without a tax increase, will teachers still get some sort of an increase? Yes, but will it be equitable and will it allow us to attract and retain teachers? No," she said.

The district has predicted it will receive about $19 million more than last year, but Goldberg said much of that growth money is already spoken for.

The 2020 budget includes nearly $9 million in required step increases, charter school fees, special education requirements handed down from the state, and other contractual obligations, he said.

Each additional 1% boost in teacher pay costs the district about $2.5 million, so a 3% raise would come with about a $7.5 million price tag.

Kevin Aslinger, a teacher at Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences and member of the collaborative conferencing team, said he's wary that teachers will see a pay raise at all this year.

"Three percent is the minimum to really meet cost of living increases, but all that is contingent on funding," Aslinger said. "I'm not even convinced we'll get 3% if you start crunching those numbers in the budget and see how much of that growth money is taken up by contractual agreements."

"It's sort of a fantasy to think we'll get any sort of real raise without this budget," he added.

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