For nearly a year, there has been significant attention given to teachers’ pay in Hamilton County. The Hamilton County School Board increased the teacher pay across the board by 2.5 percent that followed a failed and misguided push last summer for a $34 million tax increase, advertised for that purpose.
No one wants teachers to be underpaid and setting the proper level is always a challenge relative to other professions and public employees. But it’s important that citizens and taxpayers have all the facts on the table and transparency rule the day when it comes to these conversations because this issue will come back around again, and again, and again. The teacher union and its advocacy groups, having succeeded for a year in generating headlines, will see to that.
It’s important to know that last week’s teacher pay increase is the 20th pay increase for certified staff, which includes classroom teachers, in the last 12 years. The raises include 11 “step” increases and nine percentage increases. A “step” increase is around a 1 percent increase in salary given to virtually all teachers that has never been recognized by academia as a raise, something the conservative majority of citizens in Hamilton County understand.
The total amount of increase in teacher pay over that period of time is more than 30 percent. And that is in addition to benefits such as pension and health insurance payments which is valued at approximately $9,500 per year per employee. Has the average taxpayer enjoyed a 30 percent increase in income over the past 12 years? Have other government employees such as firefighters or peace officers?
With a starting salary of more than $41,000 and a benefits package of $9,500, a brand new, fresh-out-of-college teacher in Hamilton County receives more than $50,000 per year in compensation with very generous holiday schedules and two months off in the summer.
Is that salary and benefits package too low?
The answer to that is always subjective but history and context matters in an honest conversation.
Ken Meyer on behalf of the Good Government Coalition
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I agree with Mr. Myers that historical facts and context matter when discussing teacher pay. Here are some additional facts relative to this issue regarding Hamilton County teachers.
When I started teaching in Hamilton County in 1971, I made $8,500. In addition, we had a very good health insurance program. Starting pay today with the recent 2.5 percent raise is $41,051. When I put $8,500 into an inflation calculator, pay would have to increase to $54,414 to buy the same things $8,500 bought in 1971. In other words, teachers have lost $13,363 of buying power in today's dollars in the last 49 years. To put this fact in context to the rest of Tennessee, Hamilton County teachers' pay scale ranked 6th highest among all public school systems in 1971, and today it ranks 45th.
In my profession it is understood that the single most important factor for an excellent education is the quality and dedication of the teacher in the classroom. While serving as a principal, I always tried to hire the best teachers available. One summer I had an opening and offered it to five excellent candidates. Each one turned me down for better pay and insurance in Catoosa County. We are in a very competitive market regarding teachers in Hamilton County. We can't afford to not be competitive. You can't just say that teachers shouldn't be underpaid, you actually have to step up and do something about it!
As one of our former presidents once said, "Facts are stubborn things."
Principal Nolan Elementary (Retired)
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I too agree with Mr. Meyer that historical facts and context matter when discussing teacher pay. Let's focus on one area Mr. Meyer addresses in his letter.
Mr. Meyer states that over the last 12 years “The total amount of increase in teacher pay over that period of time is more than 30 percent”. If that indeed is the case, and I have no reason to doubt that figure, it would amount to a yearly percentage increase of 2.25 percent. I believe most people would say that a 2.25 percent annual increase is hardly a windfall or an outrageous amount. In fact, that amount of annual increase doesn’t even keep up with inflation over the last 12 years.
Later in his letter Mr. Meyer poses the question “Has the average taxpayer enjoyed a 30 percent increase in income over the past 12 years?”. I believe it’s safe to say the average working taxpayer employed by any of Hamilton County’s employers such as UNUM, Blue Cross, McKee Foods, and even small businesses, has realized pay increases at the very least equal to or better than 2.25 percent.
To give the impression that the HCDE 30 percent increase in teacher pay over a 12-year period is somehow out of line or exorbitant is at best disingenuous.
As Mr. Meyer stated in the last line of his letter, “context matters in an honest conversation”.