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Substitute teachers talk Shelby County School Board into taking 2nd look at cuts

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Board adds $50K to address classroom size, will revisit trims for subs after complaints

By Todd Martin

Confronted by a group of substitute teachers upset with a plan to cut their pay scale, members of the Shelby County Board of Education on Thursday backtracked on those previously approved cuts and agreed to reconsider their decision.

During a nearly 3-hour meeting, the board approved a tentative budget with total projected revenue of nearly $61 million, a 1.5 percent raise for certified employees and a 3 percent raise for classified employees, but it was substitute teachers who earned top billing.

Board members in February had approved, on recommendation from their budget committee, cuts for 2013-14 totaling approximately $2 million, which included increasing the pupil-teacher ratios, cutting several full-time positions and reducing the salary schedule for substitute teachers by as much as 22.8 percent at the highest pay level, from $147 per day to $115.

That cut for substitutes would have resulted in nearly 10 percent of those savings – almost $200,000 – but after hearing from eight teachers during the meeting, they voted, 4-1, with Allen Phillips dissenting, to table the substitute pay and later scheduled for July 11 a workshop with the budget committee to reconsider that topic.

“That’s a big cut to our puny salaries,” former teacher and current substitute Joanna Freels told the board. “We understand that cuts have to be made, but we just want to see a happy medium. I’ve been loyal to this school system, with thirty-four years in the classroom and seven more substituting. I’ve contacted all of you, and I just want to give it another thought.”

Several of the substitute teachers who spoke noted their years of experience that carry over into keeping a smoothly running classroom while the students’ regular teacher is absent, and many were upset at the cuts.

“I thought it was very disrespectful,” said Roland Dale, who said he taught for 27 years and has been a substitute for 11 years. “I won’t work for it. We’re worth more than that. I don’t babysit when I’m there I work. A principal doesn’t have to worry about what I’m doing because I work.”

Several teachers commented on the changes and how they would have an affect on the long-term substitutes.

“What concerns me most is the long-term subs, which I’ve done in the past,” retired teacher Cindy Green said. “I’d be very concerned with those that would be willing to do it for what you’re paying. When we [the long-time, retired teachers] do the long-term sub, we are the teachers. Nothing misses a beat.”

The proposed change to the scale that the board approved in February and then tabled on Thursday included cutting out different scales for years of experience, offering one pay grade for the different ranks and removing retropay back to the first day if a sub works 20 or more days consecutively at one position.

The scale changes would be:

  • Rank I to $115 per day from between $104 and $147, at the highest experience level.
  • Rank II to $105 per day from between $95 and $137.
  • Rank III to $95 per day from between $84 and $122.
  • Rank IV to $85 per day from $84.

Under the current payment system, at the highest levels Shelby County’s $147 per day is $29 per day higher than any surrounding school district except Jefferson County, which it also exceeds by  $1 per day.

And the proposed level of $115 base play for the most coveted Rank I teachers – which doubles up to the maximum amount allowable for long-term subs on the 20th day but without retro pay – is $3 less than Anchorage and Franklin County but higher than all other surrounding districts except Jefferson County.

Board member Brenda Jackson, who was on the budget committee, at the meeting said she was now worried about eliminating the experience factor and that the cut may have been too drastic.

“I’m concerned that we’re going to lose that experience factor,” she said. “We’re going to have people with illnesses, and people are going to have babies. We need to find a way to deal with it. I’m not saying we need to keep everything like it is currently, but we need to see what we can do.”

However, fellow board member Allen Phillips said he thought the board should stand behind those previously approved cuts.

“I understand we have a lot of experienced former teachers and a lot of friends out there [in the audience at the meeting],” he said. “I think on this one he [Superintendent James Neihof] has shown that he’s willing to cut when he needs to make cuts. I’m with the recommendation that we go with the cuts we already have.”

Neihof had noted earlier in the meeting, after the former teachers had their say on the cuts, that he had not received this kind of support from fellow teachers when he was asking the community for more money to help fund the schools.

“I missed an opportunity with all of you for five years in a row,” he said. “When I went to bat to the community to set a tax rate for this school district, you never had my back. It was just James Neihof and the board. I missed that opportunity. I should have come to you and asked for your support. I don’t know what the board will do, but if I do have to come back to the community again, I expect you to be there [in support]. Fair... ?”

One person in the audience replied, “Fair.”

During the discussion, Neihof also suggested that current full-time teachers could see some unfairness with additional money being added to the substitute teacher pay scale while class sizes increase, and he suggested a $100,000 increase to the budget, with half going to the substitute teacher pay scale and half to student-teacher ratio at the high school level.

That would increase the proposed Rank I and Rank II pay scales by $10 per day.

Board member Eddie Mathis made the motion and Doug Butler the second, but it fell, 4-1, with Mathis the only yes vote.

Butler then made a motion to accept the proposed scales as presented, with Phillips seconding that  motion, but it, too, failed, 3-2, with only Butler and Phillips voting for the original recommendation.

However, the board did approve the $50,000 to be spent on the teacher-pupil ratio at the high school level.

Butler was the lone vote against that addition.

The board also approved $937,000 in additional expenses from the current 2012-13 budget to fund its unmet needs. The biggest expenses included:

  • New bus cameras, $139,000.
  • New bus radios, $130,000.
  • New Project Lead the Way biomedical program, $120,000.
  • New bus purchase, $168,000.
  • Another $70,000 to finish the Intelligent Classroom Initiative.