Williamson County Schools Approves Mid-Year Pay Increase

Last night, the Williamson County School Board unanimously approved a mid-year pay raise for teachers and staff. If approved by the County Commission, teachers will receive a 3% raise and hourly staff will see a $1/hour pay increase, effective January 31st. The unusual move of raising pay for teachers and staff mid-year is happening because of severe teacher and staff shortages. The district currently has 71 teaching openings.

Williamson Strong live-tweeted the meeting and provided the key stats:

The move in Williamson County comes as districts across the state struggle with teacher retention issues exacerbated by the pandemic.

The move is also happening while Gov. Bill Lee and state policymakers examine Tennessee’s school funding formula. So far, that has not resulted in a serious discussion about dramatically raising teacher pay. In fact, this story highlights the level of priority placed on teacher pay in the state:

The current state minimum salary schedule for teachers sets the minimum salary for a Tennessee teacher at $38,000.

A Tennessee teacher with a bachelor’s degree would need to work for 10 years in order to achieve a mandated minimum salary above $44,000.

Now, however, brand new correctional officers will earn more than teachers with 10 years of experience. Yes, corrections officers deserve a raise.

It will be interesting to see what districts across the state do in 2022-23 and beyond to improve salary and working conditions for teachers and if the state’s new funding formula provides any help in this arena.

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The Teacher Exodus

Nashville’s NewsChannel5 is reporting that more than 1 in 5 Tennessee teachers want to leave the profession. The teachers in a survey conducted by Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) indicated that low morale caused by low pay and lack of support is driving the exodus from the profession. The story notes that while teachers are leaving the field, there is a serious shortage of new teachers waiting to replace them.

Among the comments in the survey:

“Support isn’t a blue jean day. It’s giving them the time they need to work on the assigned tasks without sacrificing their own families.”

“I feel underpaid and overworked. I spend extra money and time trying to provide a decent education to my students.”

The mood echoes a national trend that is reaching crisis levels.

The PET survey also noted that Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system is overly onerous, and is based on outdated practices no longer in regular use in the business world. Essentially, the Tennessee Educator Evaluation Model (TEAM) is based on the premise that schools can simply fire their way to better performance.

Here’s what educator and blogger Peter Greene has to say about this flawed idea:

A working paper just issued by five researchers concludes that the “massive effort to institute new high-stakes teacher evaluation systems,” had essentially no effect on “student achievement.”

The term “student achievement” was thrown around a lot, but all it ever actually meant was “test scores.” Therefore, in the classrooms where these policies lurched to life, “improve student achievement” really meant “raise test scores.” Linking that to teacher evaluation sent a clear message to teachers: we don’t care what else you do, because your job is now defined as “raise test scores on this one test.”

Stack Ranking:

Meanwhile, as is often the case, public education was about a decade behind private industry. The test-linked teacher evaluation system was a form of stack ranking, where employees are rated, stacked in order of rating, and then the bottom chunk are fired. Microsoft jettisoned that system in 2013, saying it blocked teamwork and innovation (don’t take chances that might hurt your ranking, and don’t help someone because that might just move them ahead of you). By the late 2010s, education was one of the few places left where people were still claiming you could fire your way to excellence.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Lee is supposedly re-working the state’s school funding formula – without committing (yet) to new funding for schools or more money for teacher salaries.

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A Plea for Teachers

Williamson County school advocacy group Williamson Strong posted a plea for residents to take action to urge policymakers to improve teacher pay.

Here’s what they posted to Facebook relative to the teacher shortage and staffing crisis:

· URGENT: We’re hearing multiple reports of a massive teacher/staff exodus from WCS.

YOU have the power to fix this. If you can’t be loud for this, don’t complain when your kid’s teacher doesn’t show up on Jan. 5th. What did you do to advocate for them? Starbucks and Target gift cards 1-2 times a year aren’t going to cut it.

Do you know your county commissioners’ names? You should. They approve the budget that pays for your children’s school staff salaries. (PS They also get “free” health insurance for a *very* part-time job, which is rich when our teachers have had their benefits cut short.)

If you’re a WCS parent, you know all about the staffing shortages in our schools this year. Many kids don’t have a science teacher, math, foreign language, special ed, etc. – and they can’t find enough subs to cover every day. Cafeteria workers, bus drivers, SACC workers, the things we’ve all gotten numb to hearing about because we think it’s normal to not have them in place.

It is *not normal* to ask parents to work the school lunch lines serving food.

But it’s about to get worse, starting THIS month. WCS teachers & staff are opting for early retirement or moving to other districts for 3 reasons from what we’re hearing:

1. Better pay. WCS is not competitive with Metro, for starters. Yet many of our young teachers live in Nashville (sure can’t afford to live here on those salaries in this housing market!) with tough commutes (especially with our ridiculously early start times in middle/high school) because they want to teach in WCS, despite the lower pay. Our kids are awesome. Everyone says that.

2. Benefits. Our retirement health benefits are not competitive with surrounding districts, and teachers start to figure that out as they have more experience and start thinking about retirement down the road.

3. The parents can be pretty tough here. We’ll leave it at that, but the insane abuse of the last 1.5+ years directed at teachers, staff, and administrators has many at a breaking point. (Stop being mean to school staff. Seriously. Cut it out.)

WHAT CAN WE ALL DO?

The County Commissioners are beginning their budgeting process right now. And they’re the ones holding the purse strings! They all love to say we can’t afford to increase our school budget, 85%+ of which goes towards salaries – because although we may be one of the wealthiest counties in the entire COUNTRY, we can’t find the money for teachers even at the state average, much less the national one. It’s beyond shameful.

DEMAND that the Commission fix this. They have the power. Literally! They know how to solve this, don’t let them tell you otherwise. You, the voters, are their constituents. You’re their boss.

Tell them to pay our teaches what they deserve, and if not? We’re all going to elect new County Commissioners who care about teachers come August. Every single one of them is up for re-election in 2022, and they’re going to start campaigning any month now.

And School Board members? Tell them the same. They should be kicking and screaming about this issue (instead of howling over curriculum like some of them are doing, month after month.) Priorities are showing. Half of them are up for election in 2022 as well.

Email them all. Today. Every day. Tell your friends to do the same. If you can’t find time to do this, don’t complain when your child’s teacher quits and leaves….when there’s a new face there in January, or they just have rotating subs every day or week.

Don’t complain if you don’t do your part to fix this. YOU are the constituent. YOUR tax dollars pay for teacher salaries. Tell the people who set the budgets how you want those dollars spent.

It’s a crisis. What we’ve been in national headlines for lately? NOT a crisis. Stop being distracted by the noise and let’s collectively start fighting for our educators.

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The Teacher Shortage Crisis is Here

For years, policy advocates and those paying attention have suggested a teacher shortage crisis was imminent. Instead of implementing strategies to attract teachers and keep them in the field, state policymakers have instead foisted more responsibility on already overwhelmed educators. Of course, these new responsibilities didn’t come with significant pay increases. In fact, teachers in Tennessee experience a significant pay gap compared to similarly educated peers in other professions.

Now, the crisis that was warned about has arrived. The COVID-19 pandemic likely exacerbated the challenge, to be sure. But, the reality is this is a situation that was entirely foreseeable. Rather than solve the problem, though, policymakers have waited until there are actual impacts to students.

Few are suggesting one key solution: Raise teacher pay substantially. Yes, adjusting responsibilities and providing a more welcoming work environment are also important. But, it is long past time to pay teachers significantly more. Tennessee has a $2 billion surplus from the recently-concluded fiscal year. We could fully close the teacher wage gap (a raise of about 20% for most teachers) and still have plenty of cash left over without raising taxes one dime.

But, no one who could make this happen is seriously suggesting that.

Instead, we see stories like this one:

Maury County school leaders are trying to find solutions to ongoing staff shortages.

The district has roughly 100 openings right now, along with a need for new substitute teachers and support staff.

Most districts in the state are struggling to find and retain teachers and staff.

Neighboring Williamson County Schools has about 80 teacher openings listed online, along with a hundred support staff positions.

Metro Nashville Public Schools has about 200 openings.

“It’s every district, every state, it’s something that’s been a hot topic for 5 years at least,” Sparks-Newland said.

Yes, this has been a hot topic for 5 years at least. And yet, no solution is on the horizon. Instead, Gov. Lee is suggesting finding a different way to slice the BEP pie. To be clear, this is a school funding formula that is $1.7 billion short of where it should be.

There are ways to improve the teaching profession and make it more attractive that don’t involve pay raises. Those should be addressed and implemented. But, any solution that does not also involve a substantial pay increase will miss the mark and serve to kick the can down the road. The ultimate victims in this delay tactic will be students. When Lee and others tell you they want to put students first, ask them why they aren’t pushing to raise the salaries of the people who teach those students.

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Teaching Vacancies Up in Shelby County

The number of teaching position vacancies in Shelby County has increased since the start of the school year, reports Chalkbeat:

The Memphis district started the school year with 217 unfilled teaching jobs on Aug. 9, and that number has grown to 227 as of Monday, the district’s human resources chief, Yolanda Martin, said. That represents a dramatic increase in vacancies from around this time last year, when the district had just 63 unfilled positions as of the first day of school.

The rise in openings follows a wave of teacher resignations. Since May, 367 district educators have resigned from their positions, Martin told school board members during a committee meeting on Monday. The district saw a similar figure last year: 389 teachers resigned during the 2019-20 school year.

Normally, I’d write about teacher pay (which is abysmal in TN) or remind readers that COVID-19 has been especially demanding. I might point out the repeated warnings about a teacher shortage. Or, note that all the “disruption” sought by so called “ed reformers” is really disruptive – to kids, teachers, schools, and families.

But, I’m just going to stop. The story is there. Teachers are leaving. The job is incredibly challenging. And there have been people shouting about this crisis coming for years now.

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Williamson County Struggles with Teacher Pay

Tori Keafer in the Williamson Herald explains the struggle Williamson County Schools faces with paying teachers enough to live in the county where they are being asked to teach.

Currently, the base salary for teachers in WCS is $40,150. In 2019, the Williamson County Board of Commissioners passed a 7-cent property tax increase to bump the base pay from $37,500 to the current rate.

Housing Struggle

“I think we all agree it’s not enough. We need to continue to make that a focus,” Superintendent Jason Golden said. “After we approved that, some of our neighbors voted for larger increases, so it is a constant battle. And I will tell you also, we’ve talked about the cost of living. Housing is an issue.”

District 9 board member Rick Wimberly pointed out the average home value in Williamson County, using data through May according to Zillow, was just over $595,000. With a $40,000 salary, a teacher would hardly have enough for home payments, he said, and living in an average apartment wouldn’t be that much better either.

“You’re still not scraping by,” he said. “We’ve got to fix that, and we’re not going to fix it tonight. … I just hope this is something, like Eric and like Jason have said, that we can take on as a high priority.”

Wimberly added:

“We are so far off — so far off — that it poses challenges now, but it’s just going to get worse and worse,” he said. “Perhaps it’s after the time I’m gone, but we’re going to have to face it as a community. This is a problem for us. And yeah, you can take my numbers and do whatever you want to with them, but I don’t think you’re going to convince me that we … pay sufficient[ly] to help people where they can have a good lifestyle in Williamson County or even commut[ing] from out of the county.”

The note on the battle over teacher pay in Williamson County comes after a similar story and fight in Maury County.

A recent story on teacher pay across the state also reveals that the state is not doing much to help the situation:

The Tennessee State Board of Education has set the state’s minimum teacher salary at $38,000 for the upcoming school year. That’s $49 more than the current average minimum salary, according to a story in Chalkbeat.

While the overall boost in minimum teacher pay is certainly welcome news, what’s interesting is to examine the pace of change in teacher pay over time.

As the Chalkbeat piece notes, the average teacher pay in Tennessee overall is $51,349.

Here’s why that’s so fascinating. Back in 2014, the state’s BEP Review Committee issued a report calling on the state to fund teacher salaries by way of the BEP at a level equivalent to the actual state average salary. That average? $50,116. So, the average now is just a bit over $1200 more than the average in 2014. In other words, teacher pay in Tennessee is creeping up at a snail’s pace. And, of course, teacher pay in our state is still below the Southeastern average (about $2000 below).

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Snail’s Pace

The Tennessee State Board of Education has set the state’s minimum teacher salary at $38,000 for the upcoming school year. That’s $49 more than the current average minimum salary, according to a story in Chalkbeat.

While the overall boost in minimum teacher pay is certainly welcome news, what’s interesting is to examine the pace of change in teacher pay over time.

As the Chalkbeat piece notes, the average teacher pay in Tennessee overall is $51,349.

Here’s why that’s so fascinating. Back in 2014, the state’s BEP Review Committee issued a report calling on the state to fund teacher salaries by way of the BEP at a level equivalent to the actual state average salary. That average? $50,116. So, the average now is just a bit over $1200 more than the average in 2014. In other words, teacher pay in Tennessee is creeping up at a snail’s pace. And, of course, teacher pay in our state is still below the Southeastern average (about $2000 below).

As Chalkbeat notes:

The improvement comes as Tennessee lags Southern and national averages for both starting pay and overall salaries. The state is also bracing for a wave of retirements and struggling to secure teachers for hard-to-staff areas such as special education and classes for students learning to speak English.

recent analysis by the Southern Regional Education Board shows Tennessee’s average educator salary in 2018-19 trailed half of the region’s states, including in border states like Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia.

What’s unfortunate about this situation is this: Tennessee can actually afford to make a huge investment in teachers and schools. We have a $2 billion surplus this year alone!

We could afford to push starting teacher pay above $40,000 for all teachers in the state. We could afford to give every single teacher a significant (10%) or more raise this year. We could dramatically increase the per pupil expenditures.

But, we’re doing none of those things. Gov. Lee’s budget reflects a lack of imagination and a refusal to dream of what is possible. Instead, he’s content to continue the status quo of underfunded schools and underpaid teachers.

As Chalkbeat further notes, it’s not clear how much of this raise will reach teachers:

The $2,000 bump in base pay doesn’t mean all teachers will see a noticeable pop in their paychecks, though.

Districts have flexibility over how to use state funds toward teacher compensation, so it’s uncertain how much of Tennessee’s 4% increase will trickle down to teachers who are paid more than the state minimum.

Because of disagreements on the adequacy of state funding, districts have hired about 10,000 teachers beyond what the state’s formula provides. Any increase could get spread across those salaries too. Districts also could opt to use next year’s increase to hire more staff or improve benefits.

Lee has claimed to support teachers and teacher pay, as Chalkbeat notes:

Early in his administration, Lee vowed to make Tennessee the best state in America to be a teacher, but pandemic-related budget uncertainties and cuts delayed increases planned for the 2020-21 school year.

The reality, though, is that Lee has not invested seriously in schools in spite of a significant state surplus:

“The budget passed by the General Assembly is disappointing when we have a historic opportunity to get Tennessee out of the bottom five in education funding. With a record revenue surplus and hundreds of millions unappropriated, this was the time to stop underfunding our schools.

There were bills to provide for more nurses, counselors, RTI specialists and social workers that our students need today and moving forward to meet their mental and academic challenges cause by the pandemic and the problems of chronic underfunding. Instead, we saw a trust fund set up that will cover barely a fraction of the needs years down the road.  

Lee’s commitment to putting just about everything ahead of funding schools and paying teachers may remind some of the previous governor, another guy named Bill who just couldn’t see fit to invest deeply in schools despite making a lot of promises.

Gov. Bill Haslam tweeted on October 3, 2013: “Teachers are the key to classroom success and we’re seeing real progress.  We want to be the fastest improving state in teacher salaries.”

Instead, in 2014:

Haslam is balancing the state budget by denying promised raises to teachers and state employees and ditching his proposed increases to higher education.

Tennessee leaders do a lot of talking when it comes to investing in schools. “Fastest-improving” “Best place to be a teacher.” The reality is that teacher pay and overall investment in schools is moving at a snail’s pace. In fact, a recently released analysis shows that Tennessee invests less in public education relative to taxable resources than any other state in the nation.

I will note once again that this year would be the easiest in decades to invest in public schools – a $2 billion surplus is instead being used for tax cuts and to boost the state’s already overflowing savings account.

I would also note that every time the budget situation seems even a little tough, funding for schools is the first on the chopping block. Good times, bad times, more money, less money – it doesn’t matter. The last decade has made abundantly clear that Tennessee’s policymakers are not at all interested in paying for schools or investing in the teachers who make them work.

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Maury County Teachers Continue Fight for Salary Improvement

Even as the State of Tennessee under the leadership of Gov. Bill Lee continues to sit on a huge revenue surplus rather than fund schools, teachers in Maury County are continuing a push to improve teacher salaries and student learning conditions in the district.

The Columbia Daily Herald reports:

As Enk departs from the role, she celebrated several steps forward for local teachers, including a boost to the school district’s starting salary, a proposed 2.12% increase in pay for all school district staff and a one-time bonus issued earlier this year.

“These are all begging steps and are a step in the right direction and for that we are grateful,” Enk said. “It is the hope that the board continue to come up with a solid proactive plan to make Maury County competitive.”

The contention over the poor condition of teacher pay in the district includes some recent, negative history:

Negotiations followed a court ruling that the school district did not comply with the local association when a previous memorandum of understanding, which included a 5% raise for employees in July 2016, was tabled during a conference with its attorney and never brought up for further review.

A local court ruled in favor of the association.

As school systems across the state work to address issues of competitive salaries, the state’s school funding formula remains underfunded by $1.7 billion. Meanwhile, a new report shows Tennessee makes the lowest net investment in public schools of any state in the nation.

While schools are starved for funding, Lee is continuing a relentless push for privatization, including using “emergency” funds to advance a charter school agenda and usurp the authority of local school boards.

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Memphis Teachers to See Pay Raise

Thanks in large part to federal stimulus money, teachers in Shelby County will see a raise and the district plans to build new schools and renovate additional buildings if the County Commission signs off on the proposed budget unanimously adopted by the School Board.

Chalkbeat has more:

Shelby County Schools board members unanimously approved a proposed budget of $2.19 billion Tuesday night, an increase of nearly 60 percent over last year.

Highlights of this year’s budget include five additional prekindergarten classes throughout the district, more money for custodial services, new literacy programs, money for proposed new schools and renovations, and raises for certified and noncertified employees.

The starting salary for teachers will increase about 7% from $43,000 to $45,965, and the maximum salary will rise about 16% from $73,000 to $84,445. The new max salary will raise the salary cap on teachers who have graduate degrees and seniority.

The move in Memphis follows the announcement of a budget in Nashville that will mean teachers there will see an average pay raise of around $7000.

Both cities are using federal stimulus dollars to meet budgeting needs.

Of course, all of this is happening while the state is both sitting on a surplus expected to exceed $2 billion and also seeking to rapidly expand charter schools.

While the State of Tennessee has a record surplus, Gov. Lee and lawmakers have refused to make significant new state investments in public education.

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Tylor Talks Teaching

Nashville school board member Abigail Tylor talks about the crisis facing public education when it comes to recruiting and retaining teachers in a recent Twitter thread.

Here are her thoughts:

These are all extremely important points. When we apply them specifically to TN, here’s what we can learn (a thread):

1. When you take into account changes in benefits and cost of living increases, teachers in TN make LESS now than they made 10 years ago. 1/

2. TN ranks 36th in the nation for teacher pay & it’s not due to a lower cost of living. TN teachers make 21.4% less than non-teacher college grads in TN. In fact, there’s no state in the entire US where teacher pay is equal to non-teacher college grad pay. 2/

3. Teachers in TN have been promised substantial raises by our last two governors, only to have both walk it back. When our state budget looks tight, teachers are first on the chopping block. If TN valued teachers, they would prioritize them. 3/

4. Although Gov Lee finally followed through on a teacher raise, it amounts to .10 on the dollar. TN has $3.1 billion in our reserves. $2 billion of that could easily be used to increase teacher pay w/out raising taxes 1cent. He’s choosing not to pay our teachers living wages. 4/

5. Fewer college students are choosing to major in education. Research shows that teachers who enter the profession w/out adequate preparation are more likely to quit. When we rely on programs that skip student teaching & necessary coursework, turnover rate is 2 to 3x higher. 5/

6. In TN, 47.51% of inexperienced teachers are in high-minority schools compared to 8.05% in low minority. 11.97% of uncertified teachers are in TN’s high-minority schools compared to .57% in low-minority. Guess which schools are most negatively impacted by high turn overs? 6/6

Originally tweeted by Abigail Tylor (@AbigailTylor) on March 1, 2021.

Tylor is right, of course. Tennessee teachers suffer from a significant wage gap.

Getting to Nashville specifically, teachers in the state’s largest city are severely underpaid.

In 2017, I wrote:

Attracting and retaining teachers will become increasingly more difficult if MNPS doesn’t do more to address the inadequacy of it’s salaries. The system was not paying competitively relative to its peers two years ago, and Nashville’s rapid growth has come with a rising cost of living. Does Nashville value it’s teachers enough to pay them a comfortable salary?

In Nashville, and in Tennessee as a whole, there’s simply not a consistent commitment to investing in teachers. In fact, Gov. Lee’s attempts this year – when the state has a huge surplus – have been underwhelming to put it charitably.

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