Blount County Education Association: Teachers get ‘shaft’, group wants pay raise, not one-time supplement
By Matthew Stewart | (email@example.com)
The Blount County Education Association is requesting that Blount County Schools distribute state funds as a pay raise, not as a one-time supplement.
The Blount County Board of Education recently approved an $81 million budget for fiscal year 2013-14 that allocated $303,000 in state BEP (Basic Education Program) funds, which are earmarked for certified employee pay increases, and $47,000 in payroll taxes and withholdings for a one-time supplemental wage. Board members noted that the action was subject to collaborative conferencing.
The Blount County Board of Education Collaborative Conferencing Committee met Tuesday to discuss certified employee pay increases. The school board’s representatives met with BCEA representatives, who are representing professional employees in the interest-based collaborative problem-solving discussions.
The parties are engaged in ongoing discussions that started in February, said Assistant Director of Schools David Murrell. Representatives reached a consensus and recommended a 1.5 percent pay raise for employees and a step increase that were included in the $86.8 million appropriations request.
The committee’s recommendation stood until the board approved the budget last week, he said. “There simply wasn’t enough to do the 1.5 percent or step increase.”
After the County Commission allocated $81 million to Blount County Schools, the Budget Committee — composed of Director of Schools Rob Britt, fiscal administrator Troy Logan and board Chairman Mike Treadway — recommended allocating $303,000 to the school district’s 843 certified employees, including principals and supervisors. Each certified employee would receive about $360.
The district would also allocate $60,000 in state BEP funds to bring its salaries in line with the state’s latest salary schedule. Ten pay grades aren’t aligned with the schedule that sets minimum compensation levels. Nearly 125 teachers fall into these pay grades.
BCEA not pleased
BCEA isn’t pleased with the Budget Committee’s recommendations, said President Grady Caskey. “The board thinks they can do what they did, but we disagree. Obviously, it’s up to someone else to decide who’s right.”
The organization won’t support the recommendations, he said. “I don’t think the purpose of this meeting is to come here and rubber stamp it. If you’re asking us to agree with the board, we don’t agree with it. We’re just about the only school district which isn’t doing 1.5 percent.”
Many teachers are displeased about the board’s actions, Caskey said. “They think they’re getting the shaft, and I agree with them.”
The organization has historically negotiated for health insurance instead of compensation, said team member Dodd Crowe. “We were losing employees, typically men, to ALCOA and other places, because insurance was too high. We’ve worked to keep insurance low.”
Nearly 80 percent of members consider insurance to be their No. 1 priority, he said. “We understand about being left without enough resources. However, we feel that if we take care of teachers then we’re taking care of students.”
Blount County Schools also recently fell five spots, dropping from 70th to 75th, in terms of local funding, Caskey said. “We need a board that’s willing to stand up to the County Commission and demand these things. We’ve given up salaries for 30-some years. We’re losing both now.”
The Blount County Commission has adopted changes to employee insurance rates as recommended by the Human Resources Committee. Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, the county will have four tiers of employee contributions: $25 per month for employee coverage, $150 for employee plus spouse, $125 for employee plus children, and $175 for family.
Currently, county employees pay nothing for single coverage and $100 per month for dependent coverage.
The deductible would be $500 for in-network and $1,000 for out-of-network health care. A $50 surcharge would be levied for spouses who have insurance offered through their workplaces but choose to enroll in the county plan.
In June, the Collaborative Conferencing Committee recommended an outside review of county employee insurance changes and submitted questions to the Human Resources Committee. Murrell, who serves on the county committee, has requested the information.
Put on base
Murrell later asked representatives from both parties if they had additional compensation options.
Caskey and Crowe recommended putting state funds on the base salary. They preferred spreading the funds across one year, instead of one lump sum.
Board member Trevis Gardner inquired about unintended consequences.
Alisa Teffeteller, director of career and technical education and federal programs, advised that the organization’s recommendation would affect federal budgets. School officials would have to shuffle funds within federal budgets to fund the increases.
Logan advised that it wouldn’t be any more difficult than a one-time supplemental wage in terms of payroll. “The place where it matters is funding — whether it’s a recurring expenditure.”
State officials made it a recurring appropriation, Caskey said. “They’ve never changed these funds, even in the worst of times.”
Logan needs several weeks to determine the total cost of BCEA’s recommendation, Murrell said. Both parties tentatively scheduled another meeting that will be held at 4:15 p.m. Aug. 20 in the Central Office, 831 Grandview Drive.