The Cumberland County Board of Education will consider hiring a salary study consultant in the coming months.

Teresa Boston, 8th District representative, said, "That takes the us vs. them out of it."

During a work session held Jan. 18, Boston said a consultant could review the budget, job descriptions, salary schedules for certified and non-certified staff and benefits. 

"We will have to give them direction," Boston said. "He wanted to know if we wanted to be compared to counties our size or to counties that would draw our teachers."

The consultants would determine the salaries the county needs to offer and develop a plan for implementation. 

She has talked with a company recommended by the Tennessee School Boards Association. That company has offered to come meet with the board and ask questions, though it would charge the consultation fee of $1,500 per person per day, plus expenses. Boston estimated it would cost $4,500 plus expenses to have the company meet with the board, possibly in February.

The board could also issue a request for proposals for companies to provide a comprehensive salary study and establish the scope of services requested.

But the study will cost the school system. 

Boston said the consultant would save the board and school system staff time in doing its own salary study.

"Number two, they do a much better job," she said. 

The Milington school district in West Tennessee started a salary study in September and received the report in December. Boston didn't anticipate the study would be completed in time for the 2020-'21 budget, but it would provide time for the board to develop an implementation plan for the 2021-'22 budget, she said. 

Director of Schools Janet Graham said the city of Crossville had just completed a comprehensive salary study and was starting the implementation of the new wage scale. The county conducted a similar study several years ago and was in the process of updating it this year. 

Board members present said they were in favor of the study, but they wondered how much it would cost the district. 

Boston said she did not have an estimate and that cost would depend on how in-depth the board wanted to the study to be. 

The school system, like many in the state, does struggle with teacher recruitment, Graham said. 

The TSBA had several resolutions related to teacher recruitment, teacher training, and teacher professional development it planned to introduce to the Tennessee General Assembly this spring. 

One resolution looks at a "Grow Your Own Initiative" for teachers and administrators. Under this plan, school systems would have flexibility in the cluster average of classes to provide funding sources to help educational assistants become teachers. Another resolution supports alternative licensure programs for prospective teachers and alternative professional development. 

Jim Inman, 1st District representative, questioned the class size resolution, asking how many students would be in a class.

The state allows the school system to have up to 25 students in grades kindergarten-second grade, though the school system pays an overage fee to the teacher for every student over 20 in the classroom. 

But the state also requires the school system to hire a new teacher when the cluster average — the average of all classes in grades kindergarten through second grade — reaches a certain point. 

"No class would exceed the maximum size," she said.

Montgomery County schools, in Clarksville, TN, has been championing efforts to increase the number of teachers in the state, Graham said. Graham said Upper Cumberland counties were considering how they could form a cohort and work with educational assistants who show promise as educators but can't give up their jobs to return to school. University programs may not also accommodate people who work during the day.

A report from the state found 71 school systems with unfilled teaching positions this past fall. Tony Brock, 5th District representative, said he knew of a school without a chemistry teacher that was using video technology to provide the student's instruction. 

Kim Herring, student information systems administrator, said her teaching position at CCHS had not been filled.

Brock said the school system needed to make teaching a more attractive profession.

Graham agreed, and added that meant more than just higher salaries.

"It's  not all about the money," she said. "The money is big. But the conversations we're hearing is that testing is killing them. Student behavior has skyrocketed, and it's hard to manage those classrooms with some of the social and emotional issues kids are bringing.

"You have teachers who are leaving the profession because they are getting kicked, bitten and spit on every day, and there's not enough money."

Threet said, "And they're tying our hands about what we can do about it."

Graham agreed, pointing to a change in state law that requires the school system to provide alternative school placement in place of short-term suspensions -- sometimes the last thing administrators want to do when trying to separate students who may have been in a fight and need "space," she said.

Board members present for the work session were Boston, Brock, Inman, 6th District Representative Tom Netherton and 7th District Representative Becky Hamby.

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.