Sumner’s Phillips Announces Retirement

Sumner County Director of Schools Del Phillips announced this week his plans to retire at the end of the upcoming school year.

From the district’s announcement:

Dr. Del R. Phillips, III announced his intention to retire as Sumner County’s Director of Schools, effective June 30, 2023. Sumner County is the 8th largest school system in Tennessee, and Dr. Phillips’ 12-year tenure makes him one of the longest serving directors in district history. Under Dr. Phillips’ leadership, Sumner County emerged as a leader in academic achievement, financial management, school safety, student well-being, as well as strategic planning to meet the current and future growth of Sumner County. Dr. Phillips led Sumner County Schools to expand opportunities for student learning as the district ranks #1 in Tennessee for the number of STEM schools and career and technical education pathways.

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Sumner County Proposes Big Raises for Teachers, Staff

At a budget workshop last night, the Sumner County School Board heard a proposal from Director of Schools Dr. Del Phillips that would result in significant pay raises for the system’s teachers and support staff.

The move comes as Sumner County is attempting to be competitive in the Middle Tennessee market. It marks the second time in the past four years that the district’s teachers have seen a raise of at least $4000 to their base pay.

This year’s proposed raises, to be voted on by the School Board next week (May 17th) and the County Commission in June, include:

Step raises for all teachers plus a $4000 increase to the base for each step. Step raises range from 1-2% of pay.

Step raises (2%) plus $1 an hour for all hourly employees.

An average increase of $7/hour for bus drivers and an increase in bus driver starting pay from $12.12 an hour to $18/hour.

An increase in pay for substitute teachers from $51 to $75/day for non-degreed subs, from $75 to $100 for degreed subs, and from $100 to $125 for certified subs.

Sumner’s proposed pay increase comes a year after Metro Nashville significantly increased teacher pay and just months after Williamson County implemented a mid-year pay raise.

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Sumner County to Ask for Flexibility in COVID Response

After closing for an entire week due to COVID-19, the Sumner County School Board is poised to vote on a resolution asking Gov. Bill Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly to grant additional flexibility to school districts in dealing with the pandemic.

The move in Sumner County even as parents in districts across the state are suing Lee over his executive order allowing students/parents to opt-out of local mask mandates.

Sumner County does not have a mask mandate in effect in the district. However, they are asking for the ability to move to hybrid or remote learning options should COVID outbreaks create a burden on the system in terms of student/faculty/staff absences.

Here’s more on the proposed resolution from the Hendersonville Standard:

After closing the district’s 49 schools last week due to COVID-19, the Sumner County Board of Education will likely vote on Tuesday to ask state legislators to reinstate some of the flexibility they had during the previous school year with hybrid and remote learning.

Director of Schools Dr. Del Phillips presented a resolution to school board members during a study session on Sept. 7.

The resolution urges the Tennessee General Assembly and the state Board of Education to reinstate some flexibility for local school boards to transition districts to hybrid or remote learning for a short, specified period of time in order to combat any future variants or surges of COVID-19.

House Majority Leader William Lamberth, who represents a part of Sumner County in the General Assembly, said he was open to legislative consideration of the resolution. It’s worth noting, though, that Lamberth is also supportive of Lee’s mask opt-out.

House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) says he’s open to considering the school board’s resolution should it pass next week.

However, he says Gov. Lee and state Republicans have made their preference for in-person learning very clear.

“Our preference is that they do everything they can to keep kids in school,” he said.

Given the current status of the lawsuit against Lee’s order in Shelby County and the advice of medical professionals regarding mitigating the spread of COVID-19, it seems that doing “everything possible” in order to ensure children are in school would include a mask mandate.

Such mandates are in effect in Davidson, Wilson, Rutherford, and Williamson counties in middle Tennessee.

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Sumner Teachers to See $4000 Raise

The Sumner County Commission on Monday night gave approval to a new tax rate that includes necessary funding to give every teacher a $4000 raise. It’s part of a pay scale adjustment put forward by Director of Schools Del Phillips earlier this month.

The move is the first scale adjustment in Sumner County since 2014, when teachers saw an overall 3% adjustment to pay. Phillips argued the move was necessary in order to make Sumner competitive with other counties in middle Tennessee.

Here’s more on the move:

By a vote of 17-7, the Sumner County Commission last night approved a budget and certified tax rate. The measures included a $4000 pay raise for all teachers. If the Sumner County Board of Education approves, the raise will go into effect in January.

Based on numbers from neighboring districts, Sumner will now have one of the most competitive pay and benefits packages in the region. In fact, depending on where teachers fall on the pay scale, Sumner will be just behind Davidson County in total compensation.

The average Davidson County teacher earned a total of $59,154 when pay and benefits were combined in 2018. Sumner teachers will see a $4000 bump in pay and will still enjoy the same benefits package they have been, so the average pay and benefits package there will now be around $59,000.

The move also puts Sumner in line with Williamson and Rutherford Counties in terms of best overall compensation in the area.

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That’s the raise teachers in Sumner County could see in 2020 if a proposal being advanced by Director of Schools Del Phillips secures funding from the Sumner County Commission.

According to Phillips, in a presentation made to the Sumner County School Board last night, the cost of the plan is an estimated $8.8 million. Phillips says he’s been working with the School Board in recent years to boost pay for classified employees and noted that all classified employees in Sumner County Schools now earn a minimum of $10 an hour.

The pay increase is necessary, Phillips argued, because similar systems are already paying teachers more than Sumner. Williamson, Wilson, Robertson, and Rutherford counties were used as reference points.

Here’s how Sumner County pay compares with these systems currently:

First year teacher with a bachelor’s degree

Sumner $36,100

Williamson $40,150

Wilson $40,000

Robertson $39,156

Rutherford $41,144

So, Sumner County has the lowest starting pay among peer districts — and it’s not even close.

Let’s look at veteran teachers.

Teachers with 15 years of experience and a master’s degree

Sumner $49,983

Williamson $57,463

Wilson $51,000

Robertson $51,204

Rutherford $59,842

Here again, Sumner County lags behind peer systems. Veteran teachers with advanced degrees make less in Sumner than in comparable middle Tennessee systems.

The new proposal would boost every step by $4000, ensuring no teacher started in Sumner at less than $40,100. Veteran teachers with advanced degrees would see mid-career salaries in the mid-50s, and those with 20 years or more would see pay in the $60,000+ range.

All of this would bring Sumner County in line with similar districts. Sumner already has one of the best benefit packages in middle Tennessee.

Phillips plans to ask the Sumner County Commission for a funding commitment for this plan at the August 19th meeting.

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Nine is Fine

I’ve written before about the disaster that is the Tennessee Fine Arts Portfolio. I’ve also published a guest column from an art teacher explaining the nightmare this process creates.

Now, after a semester of attempting to work with the state, Sumner County has opted-out of the Fine Arts Portfolio for this academic year. Sumner was the only new system to opt-in this year, a year that has seen the total number of systems participating drop to only nine.

In a letter to teachers, Sumner’s Assistant Director of Schools for Curriculum and Instruction Scott Langford notes:

Over the course of the last few months, our instructional coordinators have worked tirelessly to get information to you and to address issues that arose with the Tennessee Department of Education.

…Further, fine arts teachers from across the state did not receive their scored portfolios until November 2018 after TDOE extended the data several times.

Effective December 11, 2018, Sumner County Schools is opting out of the Fine Arts Portfolio.

The issues with the Fine Arts portfolios roughly mirror those with the Pre-K/Kindergarten portfolios.

This is yet another example of the failed leadership of Commissioner Candice McQueen, who will soon move on to even greener pastures.

Tennessee’s next Commissioner of Education must take immediate steps to right the ship on a range of issues from how teachers are treated and compensated to testing to establishing a modicum of professional respect for our state’s educators.

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Voucher Opposition Growing

I reported last week on the Sumner County School Board passing a resolution opposing vouchers.

Here’s more from the Hendersonville Standard on that vote:

“We are just trying to keep it from ever getting implemented in the state to begin with because there’s no telling where it would go (from there),” board member Ted Wise said.

Board member Sarah Andrews agreed.

“I appreciate us looking at this,” she said. “I have been disappointed to see the number of bills coming up in the legislature concerning vouchers. To take money away from local schools is just very frustrating.”

The story noted that school systems impacted by the voucher proposal currently advancing in the General Assembly could stand to lose $37.2 million.

A program that started small in Indiana now costs $131 million, creating an education funding deficit of $54 million.


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Sumner School Board Takes a Stand Against Vouchers

The Sumner County School Board tonight unanimously voted in favor of a resolution opposing school vouchers in Tennessee. The move comes as legislative debate over vouchers is heating up.

One member of Sumner County’s legislative delegation, state Senator Ferrell Haile, is a co-sponsor of the “Opportunity Scholarship” program targeted at Memphis.

Here’s the resolution:

WHEREAS, the Sumner County Board of Education is responsible for providing a local system of public education; and

WHEREAS, the Tennessee General Assembly in the 2017 legislative session will entertain legislation that would create a voucher program allowing students to use public education funds to pay for private school tuition; and

WHEREAS, more than 50 years have passed since private school vouchers were first proposed, and during that time proponents have spent millions of dollars attempting to convince the public and lawmakers of the concept’s efficacy, and yet, five decades later, vouchers still remain controversial, unproven, and unpopular; and

WHEREAS, the Constitution of the State of Tennessee requires that the Tennessee General Assembly “provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools”, with no mention of the maintenance or support of private schools; and

WHEREAS, the State of Tennessee, through work of the Tennessee General Assembly, the Tennessee Department of Education, the State Board of Education and local school boards, has established nationally recognized standards and measures for accountability in public education; and

WHEREAS, vouchers eliminate public accountability by channeling tax dollars into private schools that do not face state-approved academic standards, do not make budgets public, do not adhere to open meetings and records laws, do not publicly report on student achievement, and do not face the public accountability requirements contained in major federal laws, including special education; and

WHEREAS, vouchers have not been effective at improving student achievement or closing the achievement gap, with the most credible research finding little or no difference in voucher and public school students’ performance; and

WHEREAS, vouchers leave many students behind, including those with the greatest needs, because vouchers channel tax dollars into private schools that are not required to accept all students, nor offer the special services they may need; and

WHEREAS, vouchers give choices to private schools, not students and parents, since private schools decide if they want to accept vouchers, how many and which students they want to admit, and the potentially arbitrary reasons for which they might later dismiss a student; and

WHEREAS, many proponents argue these programs will increase options, when in fact several options currently exist within public school systems; and

WHEREAS, voucher programs divert critical dollars and commitment from public schools to pay private school tuition for a few students, including many who already attend private schools; and

WHEREAS, vouchers are an inefficient use of tax payer money because they compel taxpayers to support two school systems: one public and one private, the latter of which is not accountable to all the taxpayers supporting it; and

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Sumner County Board of Education opposes any expansion of the special education voucher program as well as any new legislation that would divert money intended for public education to private schools.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport