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County behind on teacher pay
Grant Swallows
Grant Swallows

At the County Education Committee meeting Tuesday night, Director of Schools Dr. Grant Swallows discussed a salary schedule study with commissioners noting Warren County was behind other surrounding counties. 

The study included: DeKalb, White, Cannon, Coffee, Manchester City, Tullahoma City, Van Buren, Grundy, Putnam, Murfreesboro City and Rutherford. The new funding formula, TISA, may provide additional funds in the future for pay increases. 

“Understand we are never going to pay as much as Rutherford County. We are never going to get there. We will never pay as much as Tullahoma City. They just have a bigger tax base than we do, but it is good to see where we are,” said Swallows. “I’ll use DeKalb County as an example. Guess what? We have a bigger tax base than DeKalb County. Their beginning pay is $47,024 for a beginning teacher. Our beginning pay is $40,973.”

“That is a big difference,” said Commissioner James Hines. “So we are going to adjust that up with the new pay system you are showing us?”

“We'd better,” said Swallows. 

“We'd better or we are going to lose teachers to other counties,” said West Elementary School Principal Michelle Lewis.

“I don’t think anybody would disagree that we need to get that starting pay higher because we are not able to recruit. Let’s call a spade a spade. When I graduated and went into teaching, you were lucky to get a job. These days we are begging. We are going to job fairs and saying please come work for us. What they are saying is we can go to DeKalb County and make $47,000 and that’s not hard,” said Swallows.

Swallows said they are also losing classified employees due to low pay.

“I will also say this. It is the same in classified too. We are losing custodians because they can go to McDonald’s and make $16 or $17 an hour and we are paying $10,” said Swallows. 

Swallows said he met with a collaborative conferencing committee regarding salaries and everyone is wanting salaries to improve, they are just being reasonable with the potential money from the new funding from TISA. 

“They are made up of educators and they want to see salaries improve. Nobody is against that, but we have a lot of work to do to improve that. We want to use this money to do that; however, we have to be careful about knowing where that is. What I would love to say is we are going to go to $47,000 and rival DeKalb County, but until we know more about what we are going to get I don’t want to get to the place where we are overreaching and have to come back,” said Swallows. 

“It is hard to spend what you don’t know you are going to get,” said Commissioner Cole Taylor. 

“I think with this new money, as long as we keep getting what we are getting locally I think we are going to be OK to be able to increase those salaries, but I don’t know that for sure until I know what we are getting,” said Swallows. 

Lewis asked Swallows if benefits were also looked at during this study and he told her they only looked at salary schedule.  

“Because there is a lot of conversations about benefits issues. Coffee County pays all their insurance,” said Lewis. 

“Not all of it, but almost 80 percent of it and we are paying about 30 percent,” said Swallows. 

“We are also the only county in the upper Cumberland that pays 12 percent of your retirement when everybody else pays 6 percent,” added Taylor. 

Taylor mentioned that the 12 percent retirement pay is something a lot of county employees do not realize is paid. He says if they removed some of the retirement pay and added it to insurance the pay scale would be closer. 

“There are pros and cons to all of it. If we start paying six percent like most counties do toward retirement and the six percent comes out of y’all’s account then we put that toward insurance then we are pretty much on a close playing field really and truly,” said Taylor. 

“There is another hidden thing in there. When you start looking at number of personnel that we have versus DeKalb County. They have higher class sizes because they have less teachers. We have more teachers and that is a hidden cost in there. Their pay scale also stops at 20 years. Our pay scale goes on up to 30 years. You are diluting that to an extent,” added Swallows.