A contentious debate over raising teacher salaries highlighted three nights of budget hearings last week.
Members of the county’s Budget & Finance Committee held hearings on June 13, 14 and 15, but when it came to the budget for Trousdale County Schools, the process became adversarial.
In meetings earlier this year, Director of Schools Clint Satterfield had asked for just over $500,000 in new money from CCA to be applied toward raising teacher salaries across the board. The school board’s proposed budget, passed at its May meeting, called for a similar amount.
“We can pay these teachers, and we’re not asking for a tax increase,” Satterfield told the committee. “We’re only asking for growth money – money we’ve always received. If you don’t give schools the growth money, the question I have is, where did the money go?”
Satterfield also noted that the Commission had promised earlier this year to pick up a $48,864 tab for raises given earlier this year to non-certified school employees such as janitors and food staff. The School Board funded the raises from its own fund balance after the state ruled the county could not give money for raises during the fiscal year.
The school system’s funding request would provide a $2,632 raise for teachers, fund the non-certified raises and provide money for three teaching positions the school board paid for from its fund balance in the 2015-16 school year. Those three jobs cost a total of $97,100.
RELATED LINK: 2015-16 Trousdale teacher salaries
RELATED LINK: Average teacher salaries by county for 2014-15
Budget gives schools some help
Instead, County Mayor Carroll Carman’s original budget proposal added just $100,000 in new money to the schools. At the Budget Committee’s request, that amount was raised to $200,000 – still well below the school board’s request. A motion by Commissioner Bill Fergusson on June 15 to increase the amount to $250,000 died for lack of a second.
Even subtracting the $48,864 and not counting 17 percent for fixed charges, the remaining amount of new money would provide a raise of over $1,150 to each of the county’s 108 teachers.
According to a report provided to The Vidette by Satterfield, the average teacher’s salary in Trousdale County for the 2015-16 school year was $38,960.01.
“I’m for the teachers getting more money,” Carman said. “But I’m also for feeding the county and correcting 50 years of neglect.
“We’ve taken a lot of stuff out of this budget in order to make it square… It’s a matter of caution, of wise decisions.”
During the hearings, Carman emphasized that no department was getting all projected growth money, as that would completely eat up the new CCA funds.
Satterfield blasted the committee’s decision, noting that the County Commission had previously promised to address teacher salaries in the 2016-17 budget.
“The $200,000 they have offered… is totally unacceptable,” Satterfield said. “We’ve just asked for our fair share; we’re not asking for a rate hike.”
School Board member Mary Helen McGowan criticized the committee’s recommendation as well, saying the decision was “slapping teachers in the face, punching them in the stomach.”
“They’re (the students’) mentors, they love these children… it’s like you don’t care about our students,” McGowan told the committee during Tuesday’s hearings.
State gives some money
The state did provide the school system with an extra $113,000 through the BEP (Basic Education Program) that can be used for teacher pay.
“We haven’t decided how to use that.” Satterfield said. “We’d like to use our BEP funds strategically. I want to allocate to our hard-to-staff positions, and put some of that money into our high-performance teachers.”
During Monday night’s work session, members of the County Commission showed virtually no support for the $500,000 request. Satterfield did say he felt the board would be willing to compromise at $292,000 in new money, which would provide an across-the-board raise of around $2,100 to teachers.
Satterfield said at $292,000, he felt the school board would be willing to go into fund balance to pay for the three teaching jobs for another year, as well as for an expected rise in insurance costs.
Although the school system has $2.9 million in its fund balance, Satterfield has resisted calls to apply some of that toward teacher pay, which would be a recurring expense.
“Why they can’t take $100,000 out of their fund balance is the argument,” Carman said. “But then he says, ‘I want $100,000 out of your fund balance…’ He’s asking us to violate something that he won’t even do.”
Satterfield said about $2 million of that fund balance was state BEP money and could not be allocated to salaries, citing an audit report from the state. About $1 million was unassigned and could be used for salaries.
“The County Commission knows that,” Satterfield said.
The Budget Committee did express support for providing additional funds to schools in the 2017-18 budget, once the CCA money is actually in hand.
“It was our agreement that we would push $200,000 of new money to the schools, with the commitment that when the timing was a little better, we could do this in stages,” said committee chairman Mark Beeler.
If, as expected, the county rejects the school board’s budget, the school board will have to decide at its July meeting whether to accept the county’s offer or return with a counteroffer of its own.
“I think I can speak for the board in saying that we will not accept the current proposal from the Budget Committee,” said School Board Chairman Regina Waller.
The County Commission will vote on the budget at its planned meeting on Monday, June 27, at 7 p.m., and then again at a called meeting currently planned for Tuesday, June 28, at 6 p.m. That second date is subject to change, and will be scrapped if the Commission fails to approve a budget at Monday’s meeting.
Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or email@example.com.