A $4,000 annual pay increase for all Sumner County teachers, principals and other certified employees will take effect in January following votes by the Sumner County Commission on Monday and the Sumner County Board of Education on Tuesday.

On Monday, teachers, principals and school nurses descended on the county’s administration building for a vote to set the county’s tax rate at $2.262 per $100 of assessed property value. The rate is 33 cents more than the certified rate of $1.9284.

Of the 33-cent increase, 12 cents will go toward funding raises for certified employees at an estimated cost of $8.8 million. Two cents, or roughly $1.2 million, will go toward hiring school resource officers in the remaining 15 schools that do not currently have one.

Director of Schools Del Phillips first proposed the raises during a School Board study session on Aug. 6 – well after the School Board voted in May to approve its 2019-2020 fiscal year budget. Phillips said then that since county leaders would be setting a new tax rate, he wanted to ask commissioners to set aside the funding for raises for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Phillips presented his proposal to the county’s Budget Committee on Aug. 12. It was noted at that meeting that if the increase passed at the Monday, Aug. 19 meeting, the money would be available in this fiscal year’s budget.

Both Phillips and Sumner County Commission Chairman Scott Langford, who is also Assistant Director for Instruction for Sumner County Schools, encouraged teachers and their supporters via social media and email to lobby county commissioners in favor of the raise and to attend the Aug. 19 meeting.

During that meeting, several Sumner County Schools employees said the raises were needed to make Sumner County competitive with surrounding counties.

According to information supplied by the school system, a starting teacher in Sumner County with a bachelor’s degree makes $36,100 a year. In Williamson County, the rate is $40,150. Wilson County pays $40,000; Robertson pays $39,156 and Rutherford pays $41,144. Phillips’ proposal brings the starting salary in Sumner County to $40,100.

Lisa Herren, manager of nursing and health services for Sumner County Schools, told commissioners that Sumner County nurses are considered certified employees, and that they are paid below what their counterparts in other counties are making.

Herren said six nurses have recently left the county for other employment.

“Five of the six cited financial hardship,” said Herren. She added that the problem wasn’t unique to her, and that every hiring manager in the school district has the same struggle of competing with other school districts that pay more.

“We’ve got to pay them to keep them here,” she said.

Six Sumner County principals echoed Herren’s sentiments.

“These are people who love other peoples’ kids unconditionally,” said Madison Creek Elementary School Principal Jon Duncan. Duncan said that a teacher he recently hired from a school district in Murfreesboro told him that she was making $1,000 a month less in Sumner County than what she had been making.

Former Station Camp Elementary School Principal Phillip Holt, who now works in the district’s central office, said that counties across the country are struggling to hire and obtain quality educators. Holt gave several examples of Sumner County teachers he said who go above and beyond for their students.

“We are losing great teachers to great opportunities in other places,” said Jack Anderson Elementary School Principal Tressa Sanders.

Several teachers and parents addressed commissioners as well.

“Tonight feels historical,” said Merrol Hyde Magnet School teacher Courtney Spears. “Something like this will not come around again.”

Spears said that Sumner County teachers have historically been underpaid compared to their counterparts. She also said that several certified teaching positions still need to be filled for this school year. 

“You have the chance to set Sumner County ahead. We need to obtain and attract and not get the left-overs from other counties’ career fairs,” Spears added.

Many argued that what seemed like a last-minute push for teacher raises to be included in a higher tax rate was intentionally divisive.

“I support a pay increase for teachers,” said resident Gina Carpenter. “What I don’t support is a false narrative that has been created that pits us against each other.”

Carpenter said she asked the school district for salary comparisons for certified employees who are not teachers and did not receive them.

“This is a tax and spending debate, not a teacher salary debate,” she said. “It’s unfair that along with your raises we’re getting a 17 percent tax increase.”

“I support teacher raises,” said resident Andrea Swisher. “I don’t support a tax increase.”

Commissioners voted 17 to 7 to set the tax rate at $2.262.

The Board of Education voted unanimously on Tuesday for the raises for certified employees to go into effect in January.

“In future months, probably November we will have a budget amendment here to amend our budget,” said Phillips, meaning the 2019-20 general purpose school budget approved by county commissioners on Monday will be amended later this year to reflect the pay increases.

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2,193 certified employees

1,950 teachers/counselors

150 principals/assistant principals

43 nurses

50 instruction/support services staff

-Source: Sumner County Schools

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