The Cumberland County Board of Education approved reinstating the 2009 non-certified personnel salary schedule at a cost of $376,588.
Some board members were concerned about mandated costs to the school system for a 2.5 percent increase to teacher salaries, but voted 7-1 to seek additional funds for the non-certified workers, with Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle saying, "I think we need to ask."
VanWinkle explained salaries were frozen for two years beginning in 2009, and the starting pay was reduced in a new salary schedule.
"We're proposing to go back to the old pay scale and give our people back their step raises that we had to freeze for two years when we didn't have the money," VanWinkle said.
Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative, asked if there were funds available to reinstate the step raises.
VanWinkle said, "We're going to be very tight in our budget, but if you don't ask, you don't know. And, if you increase the pay, that's more money coming back into our economy, so it has a double benefit."
The Cumberland County Commission approved salary increases for county employees last year, though the action did not require a property tax increase. It was the first salary increase county employees had received in three years.
Sandra Brewer, 3rd District representative, questioned VanWinkle on the effect of the 2.5 percent salary raise for teachers proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam. The state would provide some funding for that increase, but the county would still have to come up with $215,000 just for those teachers included in the Basic Education Program funding formula. The school system employs 30 teachers above what is funded by the BEP and the school system would be responsible for 100 percent of the raise for those teachers.
"I want to give people raises. I want to help our support staff, but I don't want to get people's hopes up," Brewer said. "We may be looking at an additional $300,000, $350,000 just for that mandated increase alone. I don't know that we've got that kind of fluff in our budget."
VanWinkle said there was no "fluff" in the school budget, and that the school system was funded at the minimum level. Additional programs and advanced classes are provided for by using BEP funds generated toward capital outlay expenses for teaching and other personnel positions. Also, the school system earns, for example, eight curriculum supervisors based on the enrollment of the system. The system has 2 and 1/2 curriculum supervisors and uses the other funds to support positions at the school level.
Brewer said, "Then maybe we need to look at where we can cut in administration. At some point, we're going to have to cut something behind us if we keep adding on in front of us."
David Bowman, 7th District representative and an employee of the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department, noted that a problem among the department was newer hires with less years of service on the pay scale were leaving the county for employment in surrounding counties where pay was better.
"That's going to start happening to our teachers," Bowman said.
Cumberland County's starting salary for teachers is lower than most surrounding counties, coming in higher only compared to Fentress and Van Buren counties. In 2011, Cumberland County ranked 85th in the state when benefits packages and salaries were compared.
Brewer said, "Before we ask, I'd like to know what the whole picture is."
The school system is beginning work on its 2012-'13 budget and wanted direction from the board regarding personnel costs, as that is the largest portion of the budget. However, information regarding state funding has not yet been finalized.
Brewer suggested trying to cut a couple of hundred thousand dollars from administrative costs as a show of "good faith." She added the county was facing changes in the property reappraisal, where property values have reportedly dropped.
Charles Tollett, 1st District representative, said there is a perception of wasteful spending in all levels of government.
"The public's perception is we're spending money in non-defensible ways," Tollett said. "I don't know where that comes from. But we'll continue to have issues until we stop doing business as usual."
Brewer said, "I don't know what to do. We've just always received the minimum amount in this county. Our hands are tied unless we convince and show the people in charge why we need more money to operate this school system."
Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, said he believed the people of the county spoke in support of education funding in the past election, with those that had not supported education voted out of office. VanWinkle said school personnel had presented information on the school budget at numerous meetings, however there was little public participation in those meeting. Historically, only a handful of people have attended the budget hearings for the school system.
VanWinkle said, "If you approve this tonight, we can compile our budget and see where we're at. We can back up, but we need a number to start with."
During the meeting, Janeway moved to approve the salary pay scale for non-certified personnel, supported by Gordon Davis, 5th District representative. The motion was approved with Brewer voting no.