By Heather Mullinix
Cumberland County teachers could see an increase in their paychecks next year, following an increase of 1.5 percent approved by the Tennessee General Assembly.
"They're leaving it to the local school systems to distribute that 1.5 percent, wherever the local system feels would best meet the needs," Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle told the Cumberland County Board of Education during a budget work session April 18. "What they're encouraging the local systems to do is a merit-based or bonus system."
VanWinkle said Cumberland County would receive $278,070 to distribute. However, Cumberland County schools still have a contract with its teachers and will negotiate how to distribute those funds to local teachers.
State officials have given preliminary approval to a teacher pay policy that will require each district to create a merit pay system for the 2014-'15 school year that will eliminate the most common method of pay increases based on years experience and advanced degrees. According to the Tennessean, no teacher could earn less than he or she currently earns and each district would be allowed to determine its own staffing needs and base a differentiated pay scale based on those needs, such as offering a larger salary to attract teachers in high-need areas, such as chemistry.
Final approval of the plan could come as early as the state board of education meeting July 26.
VanWinkle said, "You can take those funds and distribute it on the local supplement. Or you can give a bonus to all teachers that are level 5 or level 4 or level 3. It's up to CCEA [Cumberland County Education Association] and you to decide.
"Or, you could give a signing bonus to a math teacher. But folks, we've got a lot of very good math teachers. If you give someone a bonus right out of school to teach math, what are we going to do about the Mrs. [Velma] Bucks and Linda McDuffies that have been teaching all these years. This is a big decision that the board is going to have to make."
Charles Tollett, 1st District representative, said, "It's a huge trap [merit pay], and they're trying to push us in and then say, 'You did it.'"
VanWinkle reviewed preliminary revenue estimates from the Tennessee Department of Education, including the April estimate for Basic Education Program (BEP) funding and required local matching funds.
The state is estimating BEP funding of $28.674 million, with matching local funds of $16.493. That's up from last year's required match of $15.94 million, an increase of about $500,000, and comes from county property taxes, local option sales tax and other local revenue. Total revenue is estimated at $45.167 million.
Salary and benefits are the biggest portions of that budget, VanWinkle said, and the administration needs to develop plans for pay increases and other changes before great detail can be provided for funding of capital outlay and other projects.
VanWinkle is recommending a change to the support personnel salary schedule that would change how longevity pay is calculated to be more in line with how county employee longevity pay is calculated.
She presented an explanation of county employee longevity pay that provided employees a percentage of their annual base gross salary, with the percentage determined by years of service. Those with one year or less employment receive .5 percent, those with one to four years of service receive 1 percent; five to nine years service receive 2 percent; 10 to 14 years service receive 2.5 percent; 15 to 19 years receive 3 percent, 20 to 25 years receive 3.5 percent and more than 25 years of service earns a 4 percent longevity payment.
In the school system pay schedule, longevity pay does not begin until year 16. Prior to year 16, salaries are increased 3 percent each year, but that changes to 1 percent salary increase from year 16 to 25. Longevity is paid as a lump sum bonus at a rate of $300 per year for those with 16 to 20 years of service, $400 per year for those with 21 to 25 years of service and $500 per year for those with 26 or more years of service.
VanWinkle proposes changing that to a longevity bonus of 3 percent of total salary for those with 16 to 20 years of service, 3.5 percent for those with 21 to 25 years of service and 4 percent for those with more than 26 years of service. That would increase the budget by $31,879.95.
Also of concern is the cost of health insurance in the coming year. Last year, the state advised school systems to budget for a 10 percent increase; however, the actual premium increase was 11 percent.
Departments are currently working on their budgets and those will be presented to the board at a later work session.
VanWinkle shared the county was getting a possible additional state allotment of $365,965 for technology. Many school systems will have to use their allotments to improve technology infrastructure in advance of online state assessment testing. Cumberland County is wrapping up an Internet upgrade in all schools and will be able to use those funds to purchase additional computers, likely laptop computers.