By MARINA WATERS
The Washington County Board of Education is changing the way in which it will spend its future differentiated pay funds.
The school board passed the motion to use differentiated pay to add five academic coaches to the school system in a 5-4 vote during the board’s regularly scheduled July 6 meeting. Board members Annette Buchanan, Marybeth Dellinger, Keith Ervin and Phillip McLain voted against the proposal.
Differentiated pay is designed to help pay teachers who work in hard-to-staff subject areas such as higher level math classes. Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton defined it simply as “extra pay for extra work” at the June 15 budget meeting, but recently, the state made a few changes in how the funds are to be used in the school system—and those changes make it a bit more complex.
The Tennessee State Board of Education’s differentiated pay plan policy says “The primary purpose of differentiated pay is to support educator effectiveness and improve teacher recruitment and retention.” Now that teacher development is more of the focus for the state, the Washington County Department of Education’s Director of Federal Programs, Ellis Holcombe, came with a proposal to add academic coaches to the school system with the funding dollars that he said are historically used for summer and after-school educational services.
“The thing that effected us the most was that we had had a plan for four years that had been ‘more pay for more work’ and had been primarily used for summer school and for tutoring,” Holcombe said. “We had to change direction because the real focus for the state is teacher leadership and giving teachers the chance to expand their abilities in these leadership roles.”
Before next year’s budget was finalized, Halliburton attempted to add four more academic coaches to the budget. Due to budget cuts, Halliburton received two of those.
Academic coaches are designed to improve teacher performance and time management, goal setting and test preparation skills. Holcombe, who said he was charted with the responsibility of finding the money to add such coaches, called Lamar School Head Principal Shannon Gray to talk to the board about the difference she believes these additional coaches could make.
“We don’t really have a mentoring program anymore,” Gray said. “That would allow us a coach within our school that’s going to want to do well for our school, will show growth for our school, will act as a mentor for our new teachers and as support for our administrators to help.”
However, the 24 staffing position cuts made in next year’s budget were also part of the conversation—and a concern for school board member Phillip McLain in light of the newly added academic coaches.
“I understand all the benefits that have been described in this. What I truly struggle with is the budget process we went through,” McLain said. “The director identified so many positions that were going to be eliminated. And now all of the sudden, we have the money to do all this. That’s what I struggle with.”
Halliburton cited the decline in student enrollment in Washington County Schools as a driving force for those teaching and instructional-aide positon cuts; the school system lost 155 students between the last two school years which also reduced this year’s basic education program funding by $560,000.
“We’ve lost nearly 800 kids in the past eight years. We didn’t have a need for as many adults to serve given that our enrollment is down,” Halliburton said. “It’s a waste of tax-payer money to over-employ.”
This isn’t the first time the differentiated pay plan was mentioned at a BOE meeting; at the board’s June 15 meeting, McLain asked if the differentiated pay plan would be reexamined after the audit report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 showed salary increases without board approval.
Washington County’s differentiated pay plan for 2016 to 2017 requires a description of the hard-to-staff school subject or placement, education and experience, additional instructional roles and or responsibilities and the estimated cost of salary expenditures. Following the audit review with accounting firm Blackburn, Childers and Steagall, Leonard told the Herald & Tribune that the board might also take another look at the school system’s differentiated pay plan in the future. The state website on differentiated pay plans also encourages Tennessee school districts to reflect on the year’s plans accordingly.
The Herald & Tribune has made a public records request to obtain details of the salary increases from the audit report.