On March 6th, we sent a letter to each member of the Sumner County Board of Education outlining issues needing attention in the upcoming budget cycle. We chose those issues based on topics that had been raised on our Facebook page.
The issues included improving pay for classified employees, raising teacher pay, and addressing communication.
Here's the full text of the letter:
Dear Board Members:
As the 2018 budget season approaches, our experience with our membership has highlighted following areas that deserve attention:
Set a $10 Minimum for Hourly Employees
Too many Sumner County classified employees earn less than $10 an hour. When Wal-Mart and Kroger can pay $9-$11 an hour, we have to do more to attract and keep the best support staff. We know our classified employees are adept at doing more with less, but that shouldn’t apply to their wallets. We look forward to your plan to bring the minimum wage for a Sumner County Schools hourly employee to $10 an hour.
Improve Educator Pay
While Sumner County ranks fourth in Tennessee in median household income and has the fourth lowest unemployment rate, our teachers rank 54th in average pay and our principals rank 37th. That’s a serious mismatch. We believe Sumner County is home to some of the state’s best educators but if we don’t provide commensurate compensation, we cannot retain current teachers or attract new ones to prevent the teacher shortages plaguing other districts in our state. We ask that you develop a plan to bring pay for Sumner County teachers and principals to the top 10 in the state over the next three years. This budget year would be a terrific time to start making a down payment on this plan.
Solve the Bus Driver Shortage
We have a massive shortage in bus drivers. Not only does this create logistical problems in the transportation department, but it also limits the transportation department’s flexibility to address transportation issues as they arise. The only way to solve the bus driver shortage is to entice more and higher-quality applicants with a sizable increase in bus driver pay.
Finally, on a range of issues, Sumner County Schools does not communicate effectively. Recent discussions on school transportation and school safety on the Strong Schools Facebook page have highlighted the need for better communication from the district to its stakeholders. Issues around Response to Intervention and Standards Based Grading are not well understood, in part due to poor communication. From changes to insurance to new evaluation methods, teachers too often only receive part of the story instead of clear, direct, ongoing communication. Parents are not informed of how state-mandated portfolio evaluation impacts instructional time. We call on you to take corrective action in order to create a climate of clear, transparent communication across the district. This should start immediately.
By addressing teacher and staff compensation as well as communication, you will be taking further steps to make Sumner County Schools the excellent organization our community deserves.
As of today (March 21st, 2018) we've received one response from a School Board member. Below is the response we received from Board Member Jim Hawkins, who represents a portion of Gallatin on the School Board:
I appreciate the highlighting of these four key areas, and I would add two additional key areas that are on my radar, as well.
SCHOOL COUNSELORS RATIO
In public meetings for four years before I was elected to the school board in 2016, I had consistently risen and expressed the critical need for our Sumner County Schools to continue to add school counselors in our middle and high schools in order to move toward the recommended ratio of 1 counselor for each 250 students.
Since 2016, we have made some forward progress in reducing our school counselor ratios, but we are not yet where we need to be. In too many cases, our school counselors are also being tasked to deal with students who are dealing with various psychological issues, and I am in support of initiatives which may add some additional resources in that area.
As I meet with school board members from across Tennessee in the annual professional training sessions that are required for all elected school board members, I have noted a common and acute frustration with the emphasis on "teaching to the test." Your column from December touched on this matter:
I would add that school board members across Tennessee -- and, more importantly, teachers and principals across Tennessee -- are yearning for a State of Tennessee Department of Education testing program that is driven by proven educational values and priorities rather than by lobbyists for companies which stand to gain millions of dollars from selling their testing products and services.
We welcome a response from the remaining 10 Board members. If you'd like to contact them, you can find contact information here: https://sumnerschools.org/index.php/scs-board