Franklin County Schools Tackle Teacher Wage Gap

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the April 11 meeting, after reviewing the certified-teacher salary increases proposed by the PECCA team, the Franklin County School Board recommended increasing base salaries an additional $500 in the hope of making wages at Franklin County schools competitive with neighboring Coffee, Lincoln, and Moore counties. “We’ve had a revolving door all year and open teaching positions,” said Linda Foster, Human Resources Supervisor. “We can’t hire teachers with our current pay scale.” The board also reviewed procedures to curtail e-cigarette use, agreed to stop routine drug testing of athletes, and heard presentations from the Franklin County NAACP and educators from Sewanee Elementary School.

PECCA refers to the Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act of the Professional Educators of Tennessee. The Franklin County PECCA team who drafted the revised pay scale consisted of representatives from the Franklin County Education Association and the board of education management. The initial proposal called for increasing the base starting salary to $40,000 and adding a 22nd step, giving a salary increase to teachers employed longer than 21 years. Most neighboring school districts have 25 years-of-service steps and some have 30 steps, Foster said. The revised scale also incorporated more consistent multipliers for figuring the wage increase for each year of service. Implementing the proposed recommendations would cost $681,972.

Board member Sarah Marhevsky asked if the starting salary could increase to $40,500, pointing out neighboring school districts would likely increase their base salary as well, which could put Franklin County behind again.

Board member Sarah Liechty agreed, “If we could be a few dollars ahead of the curve, this might be the year we should look at that.” According to County Finance Director Andrea Smith, the financial outlook for the school district was favorable. “Property taxes are coming in really good, and sales tax amazingly keeps going up,” Smith said. She also cited federal COVID relief monies offsetting some of the district’s expenses.

Foster will revise the proposed scale adding $500 to the base wage at each years-of-service step. The board will review the cost and impact when they take up budgeting next month.

Director of Schools Stanley Bean presented an overview of the new procedures for addressing e-cigarettes. The procedures call for testing to determine if the vaping liquid contains THC or CBD. Vaping THC falls under the category of a “zero tolerance” drug offense, Bean said, with alternative school the mandatory disciplinary action. For CBD vaping, less severe disciplinary action will apply. The rules will be enforced at all county schools beginning in the fall.

Bean recommended deleting the policy calling for routine drug testing of athletes. “It’s not much of a deterrent,” Bean said. Drug testing identifies few offenders since the students know when the testing will occur and costs $15,000-$20,000 annually. Bean proposed using the money for drug education instead. Neighboring school districts do not drug test. Bean will draft a replacement policy calling for drug testing of a student only when a coach or teacher suspects drug use.

The board voted to renew Interquest Detection Canines contract. The company provides canine drug searches. “[It’s] more effective than drug testing,” said board member Chris Guess, “because the students don’t know when they’re coming.” Only Bean knows when the searches will take place.

In other business the board approved a budget amendment for an HVAC unit at Huntland School, cost $500,000, and a resolution to enter into a contract for mental health tele-services, cost $55,891.

Marhevsky introduced discussion on the disciplinary procedures policy, recommending removing corporal punishment to address “nuisance” level two behaviors. Board Chair CleiJo Walker noted corporal punishment was second to last in the list of disciplinary options, and Guess pointed out it was rarely used. Liechty said the policy lacked positive strategies for transforming undesirable behavior. “Discipline is not teaching,” Liechty said. The board will revisit corporal punishment in May.

Franklin County NAACP Education Committee Chair Chris Colane read a statement addressing the recent investigation by the Tennessee Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, which found a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. “The incidents of a racially hostile environment at Franklin County Schools are grossly incongruous with the goal of ensuring brighter futures for all our children…It is our duty to watch the process and stand guard for any improprieties in the resolution of the problem.”

Providing an overview of projects and programs at SES, teachers highlighted unique hands-on learning opportunities. The Forest Kindergarten spends part of every day in an outdoors classroom where learning curriculum and sensory awareness go hand in hand. The Friday School spring program allows children to choose from diverse activity-based classes ranging from farm care to screen printing taught by community members. The library curriculum includes an outdoors storybook trail and visiting local business to learn how they use reading. The biannual book fair raises more than $2,200 for purchase of supplies.

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