Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman says that he values teachers and the work that they do. Commissioner Huffman wants to "re-structure" compensation systems so that the "best" teachers make the "most" money. We "of course" want to "attract" and "retain" the best teachers.
According to the Commercial Appeal, the Tennessee Board of Education is poised to, TOMORROW, adopt the recommendation of Commissioner Huffman to reduce teacher salaries across the board. The Memphis Daily News also covers the story (no paywall). Here's a link to the old salary schedule - from the choices on the right, select 2012-13 for the most recent salary listings. Here's a link to the salary schedule that will go into effect on July 1, if the state Board of Ed approves it tomorrow. Under the proposal, the top step, which maxes out in Year 11 and an "advanced degree," is $40,310. The current schedule differentiates among the advanced degrees, and maxes out at Year 20 and a doctorate with $54,105.
Thankfully, the Commercial Appeal has done the math (or asked other people to do the math) for us: "The Tennessee Education Association estimated that over a 30-year career (the minimum required for full retirement benefits in Tennessee), the aggregate missed earnings is $69,025 for teachers with master’s degrees, $145,960 for those with master’s plus 30 years, $200,705 for those with education specialist degrees and $319,855 for those with doctorates." The article also explains that "Clay, Hancock and Pickett counties pay at the minimum; 20 districts pay within 2 percent of the minimum and about half pay within 10 percent." By my math, that means that more than 30 of the 135 districts in the state pay more than ten percent above the pay schedule - Memphis and Shelby County were both in that group of comparatively high compensation districts.
Commissioner Huffman will be the first to tell you that this change to the salary schedule does not require that local school boards adopt this minimum level of compensation. It only sets the floor, and it cannot affect anyone who is already employed by the system. My guess is also that Huffman would tell us that he encourages local school systems to exceed the minimum standards in order to "attract" and "retain" the "best" teachers. He could encourage them to do that by not lowering the minimum levels of compensation, but he would rather just verbally and philosophically (and hypothetically) encourage them to do something in the future
But we all know what happens when the floor is lowered, right? We're seeing it right now as plans for the merger progress and are implemented. On the Transition Planning Commission's recommendation, many aspects of educational services, from class size limits to assistant principals, are being adjusted to the state's minimum requirements. And the community is accepting and supportive of these reductions, no?
The basics of this is that the current talking points of the reform movement say that when teachers get their master's degrees or other advanced degrees, that the degrees do not lead to increased student achievement, and that years of experience in the classroom also do not lead to increased student achievement. Therefore, teacher pay should not reward getting older and going to school. In this discussion, we also usually hear from someone in the "private sector" who says "I don't get a raise every year" and "I don't get paid unless I do my job". This is easily refuted by even simple television sitcoms like The Office, and of course, the unfortunate statistics regarding US productivity and consumer spending and debt levels. But whatever. Experienced, highly educated teachers just simply are not worth their weight in gold according to Governor Haslam's Education Department.
But let's say that what I call "talking points", you call "facts". Perhaps my "evidence" regarding fictional television shows isn't "compelling". Commissioner Huffman is still being sneaky.
Also according the Commercial Appeal's Richard Locker, "the governor two years ago proposed a bill to eliminate the state minimum salary schedule and leave pay fully up to local school boards. [Then] Haslam pulled the bill after lawmakers, including leaders of the Republican majority, opposed the idea. Huffman submitted the new plan as a rule change to the appointed State Board of Education in April as the legislature was adjourning for the year. The Board approved it on the first of two required readings on April 19. The second and final vote is set for Friday." It is worth noting that even with a Republican Super-Majority, this proposal was not a legislative priority of the Education Department. Either that, or the Commissioner couldn't get anyone to carry the bill.
There are at least a couple of levels of sneakiness here. Not only is there the avoidance of the (Republican super-majority) legislature that would likely (okay, possibly) decline to adopt such a dramatic reduction in teacher pay, but there's the fundamental change in philosophy behind the unfortunate salary schedule being pushed through merely as a "rule change" by an unelected state board. Commissioner Huffman, along with those who tell him that he's right, often believe that elected officials just won't make the hard education policy decisions because they might lose the next election. That's not really a view that supports a democratic system of government, but that is the approach being taken here: couldn't do it in the legislature, so let's still make it happen even though it couldn't happen in the legislature because Tennesseans don't want it.
This is also a state board that apparently is not considering whether to adopt minutes from the last meeting, so there's no draft of the minutes to review in order for the public to understand who was present, and who voted which way. Following the minimum rules of Tennessee transparency, and providing the public with as little information as possible . . .
If you'd like to know more about the Tennessee Board of Ed, here's the link. Our representative from Memphis (the 9th Congressional district, anyway) is Teresa Sloyan, the Executive Director of the Hyde Family Foundations.
If you'd like to email them your views, you can just cut and paste this list:
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Third District representative does not have an email address listed, and there is no information about the student member of the Board.
Please take a moment to send a note to these appointees to let them know that you support teachers, and that you oppose the reduction in pay for Tennessee's teachers.
If you can't get past the Commercial Appeal paywall, try these links to the story in other publications:
Chattanooga Times Free Press
The Leaf Chronicle
Here's the TEA's notice about the salary reduction.