Maury County educators not qualified to receive the statewide pay raise may still receive a bonus of their own. Maury County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Michael Hickman proposed an additional local expenditure of $353,750 to supplement a one-time bonus for those left out of Governor Bill Lee’s special session teacher pay raise.
Hickman’s proposal was presented during the MCPS Board of Education work session on Tuesday, in a discussion item referred to as a “salary funding bonus.” All board members expressed their support of the idea. Vice Chair Bettye Kinser called it an “equitable” solution.
According to the bill to increase teacher pay passed in last month’s special session on education, nearly $43 million was invested into teacher pay. The Basic Education Program (BEP) dictates the apportionment for each local education agency (LEA).
Maury County Finance Director Doug Lukonen informed the board that the state sent them a one-time funding BEP increase of $537,500. Lukonen stated that he’d divvied the funding amongst their BEP positions – full-time employees would receive a $448 bonus, and part-time employees would receive half that amount.
“[I]t is specifically for employees funded by the BEP formula, and they were particularly targeting teachers and nurses. So, with that, they did leave it up to the employer’s discretion on who to go ahead and give these funds to as a bonus,” stated Lukonen.
Lukonen then told the board that they had the option to source local funds to provide the same bonus amount to the other, non-BEP employees that worked through the pandemic. He explained that it would take $353,750 to cover the remaining 700 full-time and part-time employees.
In statements to The Tennessee Star, Lukonen explained that the state didn’t provide enough funding to give raises to all BEP instructional positions because the state’s configuration through the BEP for MCPS funds – the state only covers 845 BEP positions, but MCPS has over 1,000.
“We wanted those 199 employees to receive the same increase as the employee doing the same job working next to them,” explained Lukonen. “The proposal lowered the bonus per employee to ensure they all got the same amount of bonus. The proposal is to take money out of the fund balance for all of the other positions not funded or funded fully by BEP.”
Additionally, Lukonen informed The Star that the local funds would be allocated as a bonus and not a raise. Otherwise, the district would have to fund the raise in the future. That would be inconsistent with the state’s intention for the raise to serve as one-time funding.
“There is uncertainty of whether the County Commission would be able to or vote for funding enough money for raises in the 21-22 budget,” stated Lukonen.
As for the positions that wouldn’t be eligible for the state’s raise, Lukonen shared that bus drivers, cafeteria staff, maintenance, central office staff, and “other classified support staff positions” were excluded.
In response to The Star’s inquiry about receiving teacher or educator employees’ input on the matter, Lukonen stated that they hadn’t. The county’s finance officials had received input from other districts, the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE), and one another during executive meetings and open discussions.
MCPS wouldn’t be the only district to ensure all educational staff received a raise. According to Lukonen, finance directors have reported that other districts plan to implement a one-time bonus for all as well.
Hickman clarified that the two percent raise passed in special legislation didn’t really turn out “as advertised.” He noted that they only have four nurses funded through BEP, which further limited their funding. Hickman also noted that the language surrounding the bill misinformed people, such as unlicensed employees who weren’t aware that they didn’t qualify for the raise and that the raise wasn’t recurring.
“[I] appreciate our legislators up in Nashville – but [it’s] just a very misguided initiative from them to make it look like they were going to give teachers a two percent raise from there on out,” stated Hickman.” So I wanted that to be clear on what we did. We just felt like we had to bring up, ‘Well, what about the other employees that aren’t licensed?’ And we feel like we should be able to include them as well.
In order to prevent further confusion and upset amongst staff, Hickman shared that they would be emailing information on the subject to all educational staff. Hickman assured the board that their fund balance could afford to do a one-time bonus, which Kinser confirmed.
“I would not even want to give a one-time bonus to part of the staff. I think that’s absurd. [I] would be very in favor that we take care of everyone in some sort of equitable way, as you proposed here,” stated Kinser. “It’s always crazy the whole BEP funding and how they do this. [T]he legislature, just to pick and choose and all – I think to be equitable, we need to think about everybody.”
Board member Wayne Lindsey added that Lee’s State of the State Address was also misleading in its mention of an additional 4 percent raise. Lindsey estimated that the funds, after BEP would equal around 70 percent of funding.
“So roughly by the time you factor all that down, to give everyone a piece of that pie, we’re somewhere around half of that number that they throw out,” stated Lindsey. “And I think we as a board – you guys as administrators – we all have to do a really good job of communicating that to everyone because the first thing they hear is, ‘Hey, we’re getting a 2 percent bonus,’ and then they take their calculators and punch in two percent of their salaries – and it doesn’t equal the check that they will be getting. But that’s not a problem we create – that’s a problem they create for us that we have to deal with.”
The board agreed to vote on the proposal during their next board meeting. According to the board, the earliest this measure could take place would be March 15, appearing on either the March 31 or April 15 payroll, if both the board and the commission pass it.
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Corinne Murdock is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and the Star News Network. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Michael Hickman” by MauryCoPublicSchools. Background Photo “Mary County Public Schools” by Mary County Public Schools.