Town, Knox losing underpaid teachers?

Susan Horn, 5th District Knox school board representative, spoke to 5th District Democrats during its most recent “third Thursday” meeting.
Good news and bad news about Knox County Schools teachers came from Susan Horn, Board of Education representative from District 5 that includes Farragut schools, during a recent speech before an area political group.

“Over 80 percent of the [education] budget goes to personnel,” namely “salaries. … During this current budget we were able to get teachers a 3 percent raise,” Horn said as featured speaker during 5th District Democrats’ monthly Thursday evening meeting, Nov. 16, in Rosarita’s Mexican Cantina. “ … The goal is to raise those salaries 4 percent a year.”

However, “Our average salary is well under not only the state, but especially [compared to] the counties that surround us,” she added. “And I personally know of five people that left to go to Anderson County just this past year.

“When we talk about how our schools are underfunded, our salaries are not competitive. But currently we have a Memorandum of Understanding … that we will try to have a 4 percent salary increase this next year.”

One major threat to that goal: “The concern is we’re opening two new middle schools” in Hardin Valley and Gibbs, Horn said. “I know I would love to see a 4 percent increase.”

Horn said Knox County is funding “$5,000 or $6,000” more per teacher than what it should, labeling this “another inadequacy and deficit that we are funding and the state is not.”

Also increased was the pay of hourly employees, “a $1 [per hour] raise,” Horn said.

As for basic school needs, “We actually only have about 5 percent of the budget going to supplies and things like that that are needed in the schools,” Horn said.

“So if you hear a teacher say that they don’t have the supplies that they need, they’re not kidding.”

In reference to Farragut and other District 5 schools, “We’re very fortunate in this area that we have fantastic PTAs and PTSOs who fundraise,” Horn said, adding a sizable percentage of “technology in any of our schools has been bought with funds that our parents have raised. … If you have a playground it’s because parents have fundraised.”

Concerning the state’s Basic Education Program, “the funding formula that is used by the state to fund education,” Horn said, “There are a lot of inadequacies in this formula.”

Horn said BEP funding for technology “is only $40 million for the entire state,” adding that amount only recently increased from $20 million annually.

Concerning “RTI, which is reading intervention, the state legislature passed this and it’s great for students, but we have zero extra money to pay for it,” she said. “… That is creating a problem in our schools every single day.

“We send out a lot more of our tax dollars to Nashville than what we get back,” Horn added. “So we help fund the other smaller counties.

“Nashville Metro [government], they right now have a lawsuit against the state because of funding, so there are certainly opinions that the state is underfunding education.”

Though not taking a position on a property tax increase, Horn said, “We haven’t had a [county] property tax increase here in a very long time” when discussing possible new revenue sources.

Horn said spending per student in Knox County public schools “is a little less than $9,000 per student, I think.”