By Heather Mullinix
Cumberland County could miss out on $597,000 in salary equity funds from the state of Tennessee if the county doesn't increase funding of the school system by about $278,000, according to an email from the Tennessee Department of Education.
It's one of three school systems in the state that would not qualify for the funding under current funding levels.
The email from Commissioner Kevin Huffman to school system directors across the state provides information on a proposal of Governor Bill Haslam to add $63 million in teacher salary equity across the state through a two percent increase to the salary component of the Basic Education Program and an additional $14.5 million for salary equity.
"Together, these two proposals, if approved, will infuse more than $63 million for teacher compensation as part of this administration's continuing goal of making Tennessee the fastest improving state in the country in this area," wrote Huffman.
If approved, those funds would be distributed based on an analysis of each school district's average weighted salary as compared to the state's average salary, an analysis conducted each year by the BEP Review Committee.
"In simplified terms, the analysis looks at the statewide distribution of teachers on the salary schedule and then examines what the average salary in each district would be if each district had the same distribution as the state," Huffman explained.
In Cumberland County, the weighted average salary is $40,540.69, compared to the state weighted average salary of $43,826.51. With the BEP generating 463 positions, the state appropriation for the county could be $597,026, but the data notes local revenue would need to increase $278,209.
"A very small number of systems would be required to increase local funds as part of the BEP match if these funds were included as part of the BEP," Huffman wrote. "Therefore, to be eligible for their specific portion of equity funds, these systems will be required to increase local revenue, just as they would if the funds were part of the BEP."
Other counties that would need to increase local funding to be eligible for the funds are Campbell County, with an estimated revenue increase of $135,000 needed, and Fentress County with an increase in local revenue of $61,199.
Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative to the Cumberland County Board of Education, shared the information with the BOE at a work session Saturday.
"This is solid evidence we're not doing right by our people," he said.
The issue of salary equity could become a deciding factor in recruiting and retaining quality teachers, one of the goals of the strategic plan discussed Saturday in the work session. That goals states Cumberland County Schools will be led by highly qualified, highly effective teachers administrators and staff and includes maintaining an attractive and competitive compensation and benefits package for teachers; leadership development for new and aspiring administrators; sharing of best practices and data-driving professional development; and maintaining a teacher-mentor program.
David Bowman, 7th District representative, said he'd talked with a number of younger teachers who were considering returning to school and to other careers.
"After five or six years, that's not too much time in to decide to try something else," Bowman said.
Director of Schools Donald Andrews said, "That combined with the Baby Boomer generation nearing retirement, and we could see a big exodus from our school system."
Andrews outlined the top reasons teachers often leave the profession in their first years as teachers, including long days, salary and lack of support in transitioning into the classroom.
"If you can keep them five years and have them feeling pretty good, they stay on," he said.
Rebecca Wood, assistant director of curriculum, instruction and accountability, noted competition for teachers would increase from state to state and county to county.
"Teachers need to feel supported and they need to have the resources to be successful," she said.