A 4 percent raise for teachers ordered by the state is a welcome relief for educators, but at the same time has put pressure on the local school system to make ends meet.
“The raise is a good thing and a blessing but it also creates an issue,” said Director of Schools Bobby Cox, noting the state’s mandatory 4 percent raise for teachers is only partially funded by the state, making the raise, in essence, an underfunded mandate.
The state of Tennessee will fund 70 percent of the teacher raises, meaning Warren County will have to come up with the other 30 percent. Since they are raises in salary, that means those increases will continue each year in the future.
The same isn’t true for classified personnel (those who are not teachers or instructors) as the state forgot them in its round of salary increases.
“They need raises. They deserve raises,” Cox said, pointing to the support staff as people who keep the schools running. Cox said the school system is looking at one-time bonuses for the coming year for classified employees if money can be found in its tight budget.
In addition to the underfunded state-mandated teacher raises, Cox pointed out the state will only be funding 10 months of insurance premiums meaning the county has to come up with the money to cover the other two months of insurance for its school employees. Insurance will increase by 5 percent in the coming year.
The money that will have to be secured by the school system to fund teacher raises means local schools will not be able to increase programs for students.
“In effect, we are in a hiring freeze,” said School Board member Bill Zechman, noting when employees retire or leave their positions, they are not being replaced in many cases.
Not helping issues is the fact Warren County government has not increased its funding of schools for the past 10 years.
“They’ve kept maintenance of effort, meaning what we get from the county has been the same for the past decade,” Cox noted.
Cox pointed to the numbers during the most recent meeting of the Board of Education. The estimated budget for the coming year will be $48,474,245, an amount over $2 million more than the projected revenues for the schools assumed to be $46,066,560.
The shortfall means the school system must find the money to operate within its existing fund balance. The problem with that is the state requires schools to keep a 3 percent buffer. Cox said Warren County is right up against that buffer by an amount of $157,411. An assumed $400,000 in extra sales tax revenue could give schools a little more wiggle room.
“We’re not at ground zero, but it could go either way,” Cox admitted, noting if things don’t change, there could be educational cuts next year. “We might have to look at cutting the tutorial programs next year and that’s crucial to education.”