By JOHN McBRYDE
They’re fresh out of college. They have no experience. They are greenhorns in every way.
And in significant numbers, new teachers are telling Williamson County Schools thanks but no thanks. The starting pay just isn’t enough for them to consider working here.
“Every single day — and it happened this week again — we offer a teacher with no experience a job, and they turn us down because they can go to a neighboring district and make 4 to 5 thousand dollars more,” WCS Superintendent Mike Looney said at Wednesday night’s Board of Education work session. “We compete very well with experienced teachers in compensation, but we simply do not compete with less-experienced teachers.”
Looney is asking the board to approve a proposed increase in teacher compensation for new hires through those with 10 years of experience. Current salary for a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $37,500, and it’s $39,500 for one with a master’s. The proposed increase would go to $40,150 and $52,046, respectively. The increase for a teacher in the system for 10 years would go from $43,776 to $47,519 for a teacher with a bachelor’s and from $46,909 to $52,046 for one with a master’s.
Those increases would help align WCS teacher pay a little more with neighboring districts.
Kerry Vaughn, Williamson County Education Association president who was speaking in support of Looney’s proposal Wednesday night, pointed out comparisons of compensation for teachers in Metro Nashville and Rutherford County. A newcomer with a bachelor’s degree in Nashville makes $6,363 more per year than one in Williamson County, while one in Rutherford makes $3,140 more in annual salary.
“[Principals] have to hire the best teachers for their building,” Vaughn said. “They have to retain the best teachers for their building, they have to motivate the best teachers. We’re in a situation where we have a small pool of applicants. We have hard-to-fill positions now that are not being filled.
“This is a nationwide thing, but here in Williamson County, we have neighboring districts where teachers can go and make significantly more money.”
Looney said he is asking board members to approve the proposal as part of the 2019-20 budget in March. Total cost, which would include a 3 percent raise for all teachers and a market-rate adjustment for those less experienced, would be $12.6 million more.
“I would make the argument that the $12 million we’re talking about is a whole heckuva lot less of a hit than it would be to the community if we [didn’t approve this],” said board member Eric Welch, 10th District.
Studies show the shortage of teachers is a problem nationwide. Laura Kleman, a WCS teacher who is WCEA president-elect, pointed out statistics from the Learning Policy Institute that the number of college students entering the teaching profession has decreased by 35 percent since 2009. And in Tennessee, a report showed numbers have dropped from 12,890 teacher candidates in 2008 to only 6,301 in 2016.
Williamson County has the added challenge of affordability for many entering or are already in the teaching profession.
“I just heard from a young teacher who can’t afford to live here and is not sure what he’s going to be able to do,” said board member Brad Fiscus, 4th District. “We do have to address it. He’s living in a surrounding county where his house costs less than it would in Williamson County and he can make 5 to 6 thousand dollars more in the county where he’s living.
“We do have to do whatever is needed to keep our teachers.”