The Governor, The Budget And Making Teacher Salaries A Priority

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - by J.C. Bowman, Professional Educators of Tennessee

By now Governor Haslam is aware of the disappointment by educators in his decision to remove increases in teacher salaries.  In reneging on this promise, making Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation when it comes to teacher salaries, it is clear his priorities have shifted. This pay raise was promoted with great fanfare.  

In October 2013, Professional Educators of Tennessee applauded Governor Haslam’s decision to make Tennessee the fastest growing state for teacher salaries.   We must equally be concerned about the abandonment of this pledge and reneging on this statement within such a short period of time.

Public school teachers do incredible work across the state of Tennessee and the nation.  They are often not recognized for their tireless dedication to a very demanding job, in which most educators identify as a calling.  It has been fashionable to lay all the ills of society at the feet of teachers, but it is not fair.  Every intelligent debate on student achievement would be wise to consider factors beyond the control of most teachers and schools.   

No generation of educators in the history of the world has been asked to do what we now demand of our public schools.  The challenge and responsibility has grown, yet public schools gladly commit to teach all children who enter their classrooms.  

Everyday teachers are challenged by a wide-ranging mixture of social, psychological, and physical problems that impede the improvement of so many students entrusted into their care.  You cannot reduce salaries or fail to reward Tennessee Educators and hope to attract and retain the best teachers to prepare students for the jobs of the future. This must be a legislative priority. 

We need to take a very close look at teacher attrition.  It is difficult to create a stable and world class education with a highly unstable teaching workforce. You cannot continue to make teachers, or state employees for that matter, a non-priority.  When legislative priorities are more focused on the results of a test given at the end of a school the year, rather than those educating children then we have lost our focus as a state.  We have made textbook companies and test publishers prosperous while we engage in a rigorous debate over a 2% raise for a teacher.  People deserve a higher priority.      

Governor Haslam’s conundrum, business tax revenues are roughly $200 million less than projections. However, educators cannot understand how the Haslam Administration could have changed course so quickly and make educators bear the brunt of his decision making.  In a political environment rampant with ideological conflict and tainted by partisanship, surely no policymaker of either party can be satisfied by the decision to abandon minor raises for teachers and state workers.

Policymakers understand that state policies and budget decisions affect the lives of Tennesseans. Any budget proposed must decisively connect tax dollars to state priorities. When teacher salaries are cut from the state budget you may well be creating another unfunded state mandate on LEA’s due to the state mandated differentiated pay plan.  We encourage policymakers to discuss directly with LEA’s in their community.     

Like many policymakers, we feel disconnected when we hear of decisions impacting public education through the media, and not from the governor or his staff directly. Stakeholders should have a chance to weigh in on the cumulative effects of a policy change.  This is poor leadership and lacks transparency.  We would maintain when confronting a calamity of this nature, government needs to be transparent about the situation, the people, and the decisions which must be made. Transparency breeds accountability, accountability leads to trust, and trust will allow Tennesseans to know their tax dollars are used wisely.

Research clearly and consistently demonstrates that the quality of the classroom teacher is the number one school based factor in student learning. This is not what is reflected in Governor Haslam’s budget. And it is up to policymakers and constituents to ask the governor why teacher salaries are not a priority.  

J.C. Bowman is the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association located in Franklin, Tenn.



Chattanooga Needs The Coolidge Medal Of Honor Heritage Center

I'm pleased and indeed compelled to let you know a bit more about the exciting and most honorable "Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center" planned for Coolidge Park.     Here's what the Heritage Center will be:  It will be a fitting capstone for Chattanooga's Coolidge Park on Northshore in downtown Chattanooga.  While this exceptional Chattanooga ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Looking For A Wife

Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, is a really cool place. I tried to buy a huge mounted buffalo head in an antique store there one time until I found out the shipping charges were four times what the head was worth. But suddenly my rapt attention is riveted on Coeur d'Alene again because a dazzling social experiment is taking place this very moment at a plush resort in north Idaho. Several ... (click for more)

Family At Bedside Of Legendary Lady Vol Coach Pat Summitt

The family of legendary Lady Vol coach Pat Summitt was at her bedside on Sunday. Erin Freeman, of the Pat Summitt Foundation, released this statement: “On behalf of Pat Summitt’s family, we acknowledge the past few days have been difficult for Pat as her early onset dementia, ‘Alzheimer’s Type,’ progresses. "She is surrounded by those who mean the most to her and during ... (click for more)

Firefighters Put Out Fire In Compost Pile At City's Wood Recycling Center

Chattanooga firefighters were called to a fire at the city's wood recycling center on N. Hawthorne Street around noon on Sunday. Battalion Chief Don Bowman said the smoke and flames could be seen from several miles away.   Firefighters with five fire companies worked to get the blaze under control, using master streams from two aerials and some hand-held hoselines. The ... (click for more)

Chris Douglas Repeats As Waterfront Triathlon Champ

Sunday was a hot, hot day, but that didn’t keep nearly a thousand local and regional triathletes from around the Southeast from putting their best foot forward in the annual Waterfront Triathlon in downtown Chattanooga. Chris Douglas and Sara Gibson were the overall winners in the International distance race, which started with a 1.5K (.93 mile) swim, followed by a 42K (26 ... (click for more)

Lookouts Capture Series From Generals With 6-2 Win Sunday

For just the fourth time this season, the Jackson Generals have lost a series with Sunday's 6-2 loss to the Chattanooga Lookouts at AT&T Field in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Lookouts have won three of the first four in the five-game series in their quest to make it to the Southern League playoffs again. Aaron Slegers started for Chattanooga and picked up the win after eight ... (click for more)