It is realistic to hold teachers accountable for their individual performance. Every educator we know has no problem being held accountable. However, it is not fair to hold them accountable for factors that lie far beyond their control. The budget is certainly one of those items. Frivolous lawsuits and litigation costs, and dedication of district resources (personnel, time, lost opportunity) have impacted Maury County taxpayers and now jeopardize school teacher positions. We have implored Maury County Commissioners to resolve this budget issue immediately, so there is no reduction in work force or loss of educator benefits.
The Maury County Commission rejected the school district’s initial proposed budget of $115 million. A united Maury County School Board made adjustments to the proposal, and then voted to approve a very realistic budget of $107,090,335 (to prevent cutting 56 teacher positions). It makes no difference to our organization whether you need to go line by line in the Maury County budget or the Maury County school budget. It is time to take a stand for educators in the district, so they can do the challenging job of educating their students. Every budget submitted thus far has been rejected by the Maury County Commission. Further reductions will have a harmful impact on public education that might take years for the community to recover.
Keep in mind, a total of 12,750 students attend Maury County Public Schools. Those students are taught by 900 certified teachers and assisted by 500 staff members. Maury County Schools need increased funding because of increases in costs, the growth of the system, innovations that will promote student academic growth for the county, and the necessary effort to address capital needs of the system. Growing pains are difficult in a community that values taxpayer dollars. But it is time for the Maury County Commission to make education a higher priority. And if necessary, the district should utilize any cash reserves, which can be tapped for unexpected expenses or during tough economic times to meet the needs of educators in the district.
Is it fair to insist that teachers approach their jobs with the assumption that every single child in the district can succeed? If you answer “yes,” how can you expect teachers to correct all the imbalances and remedy the growing inequality in the community? The fact of the matter, taking into account rising operating costs, is that the district will have less money per pupil than the year before. Adjusting for inflation, the financial picture is actually even gloomier. For teachers, this will impact their salaries, especially if health care costs are impacted. Many excellent teachers may choose to move to other school districts with greater financial stability. With hundreds of teacher openings in the counties surrounding Maury County, how difficult will it be for Maury County teachers to take a job in a nearby district where they can get health care covered? And how will Maury County fill teacher slots should teachers vacate critical positions within the next 2 weeks?
Every budget tells a story—about your spending plan, priorities, goals, and financial health. What story are you telling your community about the importance of public education in your community? We understand that it is an election year and politics are driving the debate. Possibly it may be a Commissioner who wants to be Mayor or a County Commissioner who wants to be re-elected. What we know is that Maury County children are returning to school, and their teachers have no idea what the school budget will be or how your vote will impact their paychecks or their healthcare. This is unacceptable. There should not be a division between the Board of Education or the Maury County Commission, and teachers and students should never be pawns between the two.
We ask that the Maury County Commission adopt a budget that does not reduce the number of certified teachers or staff members, or any of their current benefits, such as health care. It is unreasonable to put Maury County’s hardworking teachers through this budget process as they are now back in their classes. I encourage the Maury County Commission to start put their budget online, including all information about school district budget online. Then all stakeholders and policymakers can look for this information and compare how the district spends its money with other similar districts. We stand with the hard working teachers of Maury County. I hope you will too.
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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.