CLINTON—Anderson County teachers were disappointed as they watched county commissioners postpone a vote on the budget and a possible 4 percent pay raise on Tuesday.
But they’ll be back on Monday, June 29, for the next meeting of the Anderson County Commission, said Rachel Minardo, a first-grade teacher at Claxton Elementary School and president of the Anderson County Education Association.
It’s not clear if the 16-member Commission will agree to fund the school system’s request for a 4 percent raise for all teachers and staff. That’s what the Anderson County Board of Education unanimously recommended last month. The request could require the equivalent of an 18-cent increase in the property tax rate.
But during debate over proposed pay raises for some county employees on Tuesday, several commissioners said they want to be consistent and fair to all workers.
The Commission rejected small increases for two employees in the Anderson County law director’s office who have been denied probationary raises three years in a row. A few commissioners and county officials said there were similar concerns, as well as low wages that contribute to employee departures, in other departments.
“Unfortunately, we’re not giving raises to anyone,” said Anderson County Commissioner Chuck Fritts, who represents Claxton and Bull Run. If one person doesn’t get a raise, then no one should, he said.
“If we’re going to do something for one…we need to be consistent and treat everyone equally and fairly,” Fritts said during a special County Commission budget meeting on Tuesday.
Commissioner Jerry White, whose district includes Norwood and Marlow, said county officials have been discussing no salary increases for anyone, but the schools are asking for a 4 percent raise.
“I can’t support a 4 percent increase for teachers,” White said. “If we’re going to do something for some people, then we need to do it for everybody.”
Commissioner Theresa Scott, whose district includes Highland View and Glenwood, said employees have left Anderson County Emergency Medical Services and the Sheriff’s Department to go work at stores like Lowe’s and Walmart, where they can make more money. If the county gives a raise to anyone, it should give one to all, Scott said.
“There is no money tree,” she said.
Minardo said Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam recommended a 4 percent pay raise for teachers but didn’t fund it.
Anderson County teachers and staff lobbied for the local raise during a May 28 public hearing on the county budget. About 35 teachers wore red—”Red for Public Ed”—to that public hearing, and more wore red at the Tuesday night County Commission meeting.
One teacher said she took a $400-per-month pay cut to move from Knox County Schools to Anderson County Schools. Others cited prospective teachers who have turned down jobs in Anderson County and former educators who have left to go to other neighboring school districts where they can earn more money, sometimes as much as another $15,000 per year.
Minardo said all the surrounding counties and cities pay more except Campbell County.
“We’re a really good training ground for other counties,” said Melanie Lamberson, who works in the county schools’ Special Education Department.
Minardo said teachers are learning new textbooks, technologies, and standards, and costs are rising. Meanwhile, they’re paying out of their own pockets for supplies, and the last raise was in 2012.
Robin Minch, a bookkeeper at Clinton High School, said she makes more than $10 per hour after five years on the job but can’t qualify for a car loan. She made more on unemployment than she did when she first started at Anderson County Schools, Minch said.
By next year, Monique Berry said, she will earn more per hour as a cashier at REI than she does after 11 years as a counseling secretary at Clinton High School.
Still, teachers and staff said they consider their career a calling, love the community and the school system, and don’t intend to leave. But with children going to college, for example, financial considerations do weigh upon them. And they’d like to be able to attract and retain the best teachers and staff, supporters of the pay raise said.
“I want to make our system the most competitive system,” said Daniel McInturff, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Norris Middle School and president-elect of the ACEA. “I want to make our community the best.”
“I just want to say that they all deserve a raise,” Berry said.
The request from Anderson County Schools, which could now be considered during a Monday night County Commission meeting, also includes $178,000 for capital outlay costs (needed school roof repairs and state-mandated upgrades to physical education facilities) and $178,000 for what are known as one-to-one devices or electronic tablets.
Anderson County Schools Director Larry Foster said the one-to-one initiative could also benefit Oak Ridge and Clinton schools. Foster said he would like an escrow fund set up for technology, similar to a county fund used for industrial development.
The proposed pay raise for county educators would require about $1.6 million in funding, and the three requests together would total about $1.96 million, roughly the equivalent of a 22-cent tax increase.
Each penny on the Anderson County property tax rate generates another $152,000. About $89,000 raised by each one-cent increase would go to Anderson County Schools, and some new revenues would also flow to Clinton and Oak Ridge schools.
Before the County Commission meeting on Monday, June 29, the Anderson County Budget Committee will meet in special session. The committee could consider reducing some proposed increases for 2016 back to 2015 levels. Those moves were proposed by Fritts during the special County Commission meeting on Tuesday, June 23, but commissioners wanted more time to study the proposed changes.
Some of the requested increases give raises to a few people, said Commissioner Myron Iwanski, who represents Emory Valley, Woodland, and Hendrix Creek.
“To say one person deserves a significant increase and others not is an issue of fairness,” Iwanski said. “Why are we picking out a few?
“When it comes to salaries, I want to be consistent.”
Fritts’ motion targets proposed spending increases in 10 areas, including the county mayor’s office, planning and purchasing, judicial commissioners and other administration of justice, stormwater management, tourism, and courtroom security and public safety, much of it for supplies, salaries, personnel, and part-time help.
The Budget Committee meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. Monday, June 29, in Room 312 at the Anderson County Courthouse at 100 North Main Street in Clinton. The County Commission meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. in that same room.
The budget presented by Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank doesn’t make significant changes, keeping most county departments at current-year spending levels, and it does not include an increase in the property tax rate.
“It’s as vanilla a budget as I’ve seen,” Anderson County Budget Director Chris Phillips said after the Tuesday night meeting.
Th budget proposal recommended by the Budget Committee provides no new money for the school system, keeping their funding at current levels into the next year. It includes about $25 million in spending in the general fund.
School leaders said that during the past six years, system employees have seen only slight increases in their salaries, which do not keep up with the rate of inflation, hence the request for funding for raises.
Separately, county officials have been told that the county’s certified property tax rate will probably go up by at least 14 cents because of five-year property reappraisals that show property values have dropped overall in Anderson County. The revenues generated by property taxes after a reappraisal have to stay the same as the revenues before, so if overall property values drop, the tax rate has to increase.
The next fiscal year begins July 1.
Copyright 2015 Oak Ridge Today. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.