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New salary schedule to realign teacher pay

The start of a new academic year brings with it an adjusted 2015-16 salary schedule that removes an important distinction related to school system employees who hold advanced degrees.
During last week’s meeting, Board of Education members unanimously approved the schedule based on a recommendation from the Finance Committee. The new structure includes a 2 percent salary increase, elimination of Plan A, retention of the current annual step increase, and an adjusted salary schedule to ensure compliance of the state’s minimum pay.
Director of Schools Ron Dykes said changes to the historic schedule that has been followed for more than 20 years were prompted by the lawsuit filed by David Crockett High School teacher Jamie Freeman who alleged he was not compensated at the correct pay grade.
In the executive session held during the July school board meeting, at which a settlement with Freeman was approved, Chairman Todd Ganger called for an analysis of the salary schedule and asked Dykes to bring back a recommendation.
Under the schedule followed through the 2014-15 school year, a teacher’s pay was based on educational degree and years of experience. Plan A included teachers who either did not have an advanced degree or had one that was not in their assigned area. Teachers who earned advanced degrees in their assigned area were paid a higher salary under Plan B.
To illustrate the structure, Dykes gave as an example a teacher in the classroom paid under Plan A who earned an advanced degree in administration. Unless that teacher then moved into an administration position, he or she would not receive the salary increase under Plan B.
Going forward, teachers with advanced degrees will be paid a higher rate regardless of whether the hours are in their assigned area.
“It was in the best interest of teachers for Plan A to be eliminated,” Dykes said. “It served its purpose, but is no longer appropriate.”
According to Dykes, the State of Tennessee just revamped its entire salary schedule, and the county system’s adjustment is a proactive move to become more in line with the new guidelines.
A second lawsuit alleging pay discrepancies was filed at the end of June by the Washington County Education Association on behalf of members Jenee Peters and Pam Coggins. Both have taught in the county school system for 19 years.
The suit states that during some of those years, Peters and Coggins received reductions in their local supplemental pay, which is the difference in the minimum salary set by the state and the total salary they received in accordance with the county BOE’s salary schedule.
The BOE is not allowed to reduce a teacher’s local supplement from one year to the next pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. 49-3-306(b)(4)(B), according to the lawsuit.
Further claims allege “numerous members of WCEA likewise have, upon information and belief, suffered similar reductions in the locally funded portion of their salaries at particular steps in violation of Tenn. Code Ann. 49-3-306(b)(4)(B).”
Plaintiffs are requesting the court refer the matter to a special master to determine the identities of those present and former professional employees who suffered losses as a result of the BOE’s actions and the amount that each employee is due, together with pre-judgment and post-judgment interest.
A response to the complaint from BOE counsel Earl Booze has not been filed.
Dykes said WCEA is a voluntary organization that does not include all teachers as members, but any ruling in the lawsuit would be applied to the whole population.