The Williamson County Schools Board of Education voted in favor of three resolutions to address staff hiring and retention issues, as well as student population growth.
The former proposes a 3% mid-year salary increase for all teachers and a $1 salary increase for all hourly staff, while the latter would add just over $3.4 million in funding. to the current budget for additional teachers in general and special education. The third would implement a $5,000 retention bonus for currently employed school psychologists.
“We hope our staff will recognize that we are doing what we can with the funding we have,” WCS Superintendent Jason Golden said Tuesday.
If approved by the county commission, the wage increases will take effect Feb. 1 and will be paid by Feb. 28 due to the structure of county commission meetings. The necessary additional positions have already been created and hired, but must be approved by the board and commission in order to be noted as expenditures in the amended 2021-2022 budget.
“It’s extremely unusual,” Golden said Tuesday. “It’s hard to make a change for a government entity on a budget.”
Funding for salary increases and additional positions is already accounted for by WCS through sales tax revenues as well as projected revenues for the winter and next budget cycle. Sales tax is one of three compartments that fund the district, alongside property taxes and funding for the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP).
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Between July and October 2021, the district’s sales tax revenue totaled $7 million more than the amount projected for that period. The district administration attributes the increase in this funding tranche to population growth across the county.
“We are very comfortable with the evolution of sales tax,” WCS Deputy Superintendent of Budget and Finance Rachel Farmer said Thursday. “Even if there was something that would slow the growth that we’re seeing, (sales tax revenue) is up 20-30% (July-October) from a year ago and even more than the previous year. .”
The district wage increases would accompany a potential proposal for a $1 hourly wage increase for county government staff. The change could be presented to the county commission by county mayor Rogers Anderson in February and serve as a benchmark for the next budget cycle, which includes pay for county employees.
“(The mayor) encouraged us to do the same,” Golden said.
The district currently has 12 vacancies out of 54 total school psychologist positions. To combat “salary incentives and higher salaries in competing school districts,” Golden said the administration had “determined (the problem) required an immediate response with a retention bonus.”
The $5,000 bonus would be paid in two installments over the remainder of this school year to currently employed school psychologists, totaling about $210,000 for the district across about 42 positions. There are currently retention bonuses used for various positions in the district.
Additional funding for the continuation or expansion of the three resolutions will be discussed closer to the start of the next budget cycle. In February, WCS human resources representatives are scheduled to make a presentation to the school board on the status of vacancies, departures, compensation and more regarding WCS staffing challenges.
In previous meetings throughout the year, Golden and Board members have agreed that these resolutions are just some of the first steps in addressing staffing challenges that have increased, particularly since the onset of COVID-19 and the rising cost of living in Williamson County.
“A central point that we have, we continue to emphasize and work on it, and we know that we must continue to work on this, is to provide a good living wage for our professionals,” Golden said. “And when the market changes quickly, it makes sense to make a quick change to let people know we’re responsive.”
Ongoing Staff Challenges
WCS has publicly discussed staffing challenges throughout 2021. Earlier this year, Golden and the administration pledged to explore “market conditions” to determine a way to address current issues.
The board also approved an hourly wage increase for early career special education teachers.
As of last week, WCS had 71 teaching positions open or a teacher fill rate of about 98%, according to Golden. But across the district, there are about 200 additional vacancies among “classified positions,” such as cafeteria workers, bus drivers and teacher assistants, according to Vickie Hall, assistant superintendent of human resources for Golden and WCS. .
During 2021, the District has experienced 529 “separations” in which a staff member left employment with the District in one way or another. In 2019, separations totaled 388 and in 2020 the total was even lower.
“We’re losing people to private schools and other districts. That’s something we’ve taken note of,” Hall said. “But it’s for various reasons.”
Hall and Golden agreed that many of the teachers who left the district were early in their careers with between zero and six years of experience. Some who left noted the “difficult climate” of working as a teacher and in schools today, according to exit interviews and data collection.
Last summer, the starting salary for a first-grade teacher at WCS was $40,150, while a teacher with the same level of experience would be paid about $46,271 at public schools in Metro Nashville. and $42,790 to Rutherford County Schools. According to Hall, the WCS is still about 15% lower than average teacher salaries at MNPS and about 7% below the RCS.
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