Dear County Commissioner:
I would first like to take this opportunity to thank you for all of the hard work you put into making decisions in order to better our community. The work you do balancing the financial needs of this county is certainly difficult and should not go unnoticed. Your position as a county commissioner is a thankless one.
I feel that a very important matter needs your attention, and if it is ignored the community will suffer devastating effects. Over the past several years, the county school’s budget has not been fully funded and pay raises for teachers has been denied, causing highly experienced, good teachers to go to other school systems. As I mentioned in a previous Manchester Times article, there are currently eighteen school districts within an hour drive from here who pay their educators more than Coffee County Schools. Gone are the days when educators will stay with a school system purely out of loyalty. With higher expectations than ever before, and a constant barrage of attacks on the teaching profession by the state legislature, it is difficult to argue against educators deserving to be paid like the professionals that they are. The cost of living in this country has risen by 20.4 percent over the last ten years. In essence, even with the step ladder increases, teacher’s salaries have decreased by an average of one percent per year, every year, for the past decade. Experienced teachers with 25 years of experience or more do not get the meager step increases, so they have beared the full brunt of the increased cost of living.
The current pay increase for educators in this year’s Coffee County Schools budget utilizes money sent to them from Governor Haslam for that purpose. While that money needs to be used to increase the salaries of teachers and teacher’s aides, it’s crucial to remember that the other eighteen school districts who pay more than Coffee County are also getting money from the state for that same purpose. Teachers set the foundation for our society, and the time has come to support education in more than theory.
I submit a three step plan to help get educational funding on the right track in this county. Step one is for you and for the citizens of this county to have important conversations with Mayor Lonnie Norman and the six Manchester City aldermen and implore them to allow the voters of Coffee County and Manchester City to have a voice on consolidating Manchester City Schools with Coffee County Schools. It is not too late for this measure to be placed on the November ballot, but this process would need to be initiated very soon. A substantial amount of taxpayer money is wasted every year by maintaining these separate school systems.
Consolidation would make step two much easier to accomplish, which is to make a goal to fund a 2% teacher salary increase each of the next two years. It’s widely known that property taxes here are the third highest in the state. With property taxes this high, and with a county school system beginning to hemorrhage because of a lack of financial support, the time has come for our tax dollars to be prioritized in such a way that helps people become educated so they can stay out of jail, instead of taking care of them once they’re there. Raising educator’s salaries will help prevent the best and most experienced teachers from leaving for higher-paying positions elsewhere, while also attracting highly qualified, dynamic teachers to this area. Additionally, it will make a statement to local businesses that Coffee County is dedicated to investing in its children and graduating skilled workers.
Step three is for you to submit a formal letter to Governor Haslam and the state legislature asking them to fully fund the BEP, update it to reflect what the county actually has to pay for education, and stop under funding schools leaving our local government and taxpayers to pick up the slack.