WHAT WE THINK: Schools reached right number on sub pay

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The debate about pay for substitute teachers in Shelby County Public Schools hit the right compromise for us.

The volatile issue of pay for substitute teachers in Shelby County – which has become as big a debate for its emotion as it has for its fiscal prudence – appears to be nearing a reasonable conclusion.

We don’t expect that all sides are perfectly happy with the decision last week by the Shelby County School Board, but we believe the due diligence of the process is encouraging and fulfills a moral obligation to all parties involved: the most experienced substitute teachers and we taxpayers who fund their checks.

The issue about how much Shelby County pays its subs at the top of its scale is a topic that drew much ire from the retirees when it appeared to be headed for up to $32-a-day cut after the board’s budget committee last winter recommended as much and included it in the working budget proposal delivered in May.

Veteran teachers who had retired but continued to work decried any sort of cut as being a slap at them and their contributions, that they were being devalued despite the unique positions of experience and commitment they provided.

We understood that argument – experienced subs who actually teach are a coveted commodity, to be sure – but we also understood the conundrum of those developing a budget with diminished funding amid pressure not to increase taxes while also trying to pay a reasonable wage to the full-time teachers.

Shelby Countians pay handsomely for our education, and we encourage any fiscal reviews that our leaders can address that maintain the focus on students and classrooms and remove assault from the periphery. If we can cut a few quarters here and there, dollars would be in place to hire quality, full-time teachers, maintain manageable classroom ratios and continue to develop the curricula and technology that will be the front-seat drivers for the modern educational future.

Whether there were communication gaps in this process – retired educators said they were surprised to learn of the change in pay scale in a letter despite the fact that it had been addressed publically months earlier – is a matter of management, and the school board responded appropriately by hearing concerns, reopening the discussions and arriving at a compromise solution to balancing its budget.

That the board agreed to review the proposed reduction of its top-end scale from $147 a day to $115 – no small slice, to be sure – by suggesting a compromise at $130 fulfilled those goals. That the new recommendation also included increased funding that eliminated, in some cases, growth in class-room ratios was a bonus.

Also, retired teachers no longer will be paid retroactively when a temp job goes past a contractually stipulated period of time and becomes virtually permanent, but they will continue to be paid near the top end of the scale for this area of the state.

That seems fair to us.

After all, subs are part-time employees, no matter their experience level. Should the scale for part-time workers be absolutely equal with full-time? Shouldn’t there be a premium for working full-time each year?

Please don’t misunderstand us: We appreciate the contributions from retired teachers and others in the part-time pool. We understand their added value of experience. These people deserve our flowers and love notes.

Anyone can throw darts at a budget and find spots that we think should be trimmed and massaged to the advantage of the bottom line, but we think the sum of the parts of this debate feels about right.