In my role as the acting Vice President of the Coffee County Education Association, I spoke at the Coffee County School Board work session on Monday of last week. I brought with me a concern that was expressed to the Association by some teachers, and I left that meeting quite impressed by the Board’s and Dr. McFall’s dedication and desire to stand with CCEA in supporting Coffee County’s teachers. During our discussion, we eventually got on the topic of the importance of continuing to raise teachers’ salaries so that Coffee County Schools can be more competitive in attracting qualified teachers. The school board reassured me that they are dedicated to continue to raise teachers’ salaries.
On that topic Dr. LaDonna McFall, our Director of Schools, also made sure to point out that while other school systems eliminated their step raises for years of experience and advanced degrees, Coffee County has kept theirs in place. These step raises are, in fact, a type of raise that most of the Coffee County teachers receive every year. Dr. Shannon Duncan then reiterated her offer to meet with any member of the Coffee County Commission at any time to discuss the county school’s budget. I sincerely hope that she is taken up on that offer. I have personally talked to several County Commissioners about increasing funding for the county schools (an admittedly tricky thing to do with two city school systems) and, inevitably, they blame the School Board for not sending them a “clean budget” that they feel puts teachers first. As long as both sides are blaming the other for a lack of action related to funding public education, then the stalemate will continue indefinitely. Clearly, an increase in the quantity and quality of communication between these two governing bodies is needed desperately. Dr. Duncan has once again opened her door to that communication and, for the sake of our teachers and especially of our students, I dare say that it would be foolish for the Coffee County Commission to not take her up on her offer. They have nothing to lose, and risk gaining a greater understanding of how the county school’s budget operates.
Missing from this scenario are Coffee County’s teachers. Coffee County Commissioners are much more likely to work with the school board to increase funding for public education if the teachers in their respective districts made their voices heard. They’re more likely to listen when teachers of #TeamCoffee show up to County Commission meetings and make their presence felt. Every educator should ask him or herself who is in the driver’s seat when it comes to funding public education. The answer should be the teachers. We wield an astounding amount of influence when we stand together.
Later in the week, I attended a meeting for officers of local TEA affiliates, and I learned more information about several of the educational laws that passed during Tennessee's last legislative session. For the sake of brevity I will not go into great detail about these bills, but suffice it to say that special interests have a louder voice with our elected officials than teachers. Case in point: The State Board of Education now has the authority to grant charter schools--a right that used to belong exclusively to the local school system. In exchange for the State Board allowing charter schools into local districts that probably don't want them, they will receive a 4% annual kickback of the school's funding. Yes, local taxpayer money can now legally be funneled to the State Board of Education and thereby make it easier for them to allow more charter schools into the state. This, combined with President-Elect Trump’s pro-charter and pro-voucher education agenda can be a dangerous cocktail for a downward spiral of public education in Tennessee. Stay tuned. In the meantime, the Tennessee Education Association is the only organization with a proven track record of defeating special interests, and they will work hard to defeat all voucher schemes while fighting against radical charter school expansion. After all, it's in every student’s best interest to restore local control of school decisions.