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Staff File Photo By C.B. Schmelter / Hamilton County Schools chief business officer Brent Goldberg has found savings in the first half of the 2019-2020 budget to give teachers a recurring 2.5% raise, if approved.

If you're confused about the salary conversations surrounding Hamilton County teachers over the past year, you're not alone. The raises, bonuses and requests for salary increases thrown around are enough to befuddle even the most experienced financial whiz, so the average taxpayer has little chance of keeping track.

On Thursday, schools Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson floated a mid-year salary increase for teachers at his State of the System address.

For a little context, let's go back and look at some numbers:

* March 4, 2019: Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, in his first budget, recommends a 2.5% pay increase for teachers for the 2019-2020 school year. The state Senate and House pass the budget.

* April 25, 2019: The Hamilton County Schools district unveils a $443 million budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year requesting certified teachers get a 5% raise and support staff a 4% increase. Those amounts include the 2.5% raise from the state.

* May 9, 2019: Hamilton County Board of Education passes the district budget, which provides — among other things — the requested raises. The board seeks a 34-cent property tax increase.

* June 12, 2019: Hamilton County Schools chief business officer Brent Goldberg says the state's portion of the raise for local teachers is effectively 1.3% because Hamilton County funds 500 more teachers than are recommended by the state Basic Education Program (BEP) to keep local class sizes lower.

* June 26, 2019: Hamilton County Commission defeats the county's proposed $819 million budget, which includes the 34-cent property tax to pay for teachers raises, more than 90 new school positions and other education requests.

* July 25, 2019: Hamilton County Board of Education passes a revised budget giving all school employees, instead of a raise, a one-time bonus of $1,500, which, for two-thirds of professional employees — according to the Hamilton County Schools website (HCDE.org) — is as much or more than a 2.5% raise. The amount is proposed by a collaborative conferencing teacher team.

* Sept. 16, 2019: The school district, its fiscal 2019 budget having come in $11 million under budget, gives teachers an additional $555 one-time bonus for the 2019-2020 school year.

* Feb. 3, 2020: Gov. Bill Lee proposes the "largest investment in K-12 teacher salaries in Tennessee history," which will give teachers a 4% raise for the 2020-2021 school year.

* Feb. 6, 2020: Johnson, saying the district has saved $3 million during the first half of the fiscal 2019-2020 year, proposes a recurring 2.5% raise for certified school employees effective, if approved, at the end of the month. Although the bonuses from July and September aren't recurring, those bonuses and Johnson's proposed raise together would give all affected employees, for the rest of the year, a raise of more than the 5% originally sought by teachers for this school year.

* Feb. 6, 2019: A statement from the Hamilton County Collaborative Conference Teacher Representative Team notes it will request a 10% raise for teachers for the 2020-2021 school year. That would include the 4% from the state budget, if approved.

Information available on HCDE.org reveals Hamilton County teachers in the last 10 years — before the current school year — have had raises totaling 16.43%, plus one-time bonuses of 1% of their salary and $250 each for three years.

We detail all this because, in the next five or six months, Hamilton County commissioners and the public will hear rhetoric that local teachers never get raises (false), that they got no raises last year (false for that year, even though the initial increase was a bonus), that the state doesn't fully fund the BEP (false, and Lee hopes to increase it), that raises haven't kept up with the cost of living in the last 10 years (true, barely) and that in some of those years they got no raises (true, though two of those years were the worst two of the Great Recession).

And when a district comes in $11 million under budget for one year and funds $555 bonuses for the next year, then later in the next year finds $3 million in savings to fund a recurring 2.5% raise beginning the same year, it must give pause to county commissioners and the public. It does to us. How will all of us know with good confidence that money for future teacher pay raises can't be funded with savings found in the budget and not by a tax increase?

We hope next year's salaries are funded with a little less chewing gum and baling wire.

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