Equity pay music to county schools' ears

By Thomas Wilson

   Ten years after getting on board with other rural school systems around the state, Carter County Schools may have reached the finish line in a race to equalize pay for K-12 school teachers.
   "Our teachers have been working day after day with the kids and paid five, ten and fifteen thousand dollars less for doing the same job (as other districts)," said Dallas Williams, superintendent of Carter County Schools. "I am very happy and excited for them."
   Carter County will receive $1.3 million in new funding to bolster K-12 teacher salaries as part of Gov. Phil Bredesen $26.7 million budget proposal submitted to the General Assembly last week. The county school system was one of several small school systems that joined a lawsuit against the state of Tennessee calling for equal pay for teachers in the state's most rural school districts.
   Bredesen's proposal calls for immediately working to bring all Tennessee school systems to an average salary of $37,000. The 75 school systems getting help next year currently fall beneath that amount. In all, 17,161 teachers in 75 school districts will see their salaries increase if the governor's proposal is approved by lawmakers.
   This proposal will begin closing the gap in salary disparity between the highest paying systems and the lowest paying systems bringing the difference from $16,612 to $13,268.
   Board member Steve Chambers praised Bredesen for keeping his promise not to touch current funding for the state's K-12 education. He also said the system's decision to join the teachers' equity lawsuit in 1992, and waiting for action, had paid off, literally.
   "We had to cut some programs in the early 1990s," said Chambers. "This is going to be for the future of Carter County."
   Williams also applauded the system's veteran teachers who had opted to remain in the county system.
   "For those teachers who have worked in the Carter County system for years and didn't leave for other systems to make more money," he said. "They saw this thing through, and I am especially happy for them."
   In other business, the board approved a request to purchase four new school buses and one special education school bus. The four, 66-passenger school buses costs $49,000 each while the special education bus price tag came in at $36,000. The purchases were expenditures budgeted in the system's 2002-2003 capital budget plan.
   Principal John Fine of Unaka High School thanked the board for renovations to the school's building and athletic facilities in recent months. The school's football field was re-sodded in time for the Rangers 2002 football season, while the high school underwent several structural improvements.
   Fine said the renovations were a far cry from the days of leaking roofs and condensed ice inside the hallways and classrooms that once plagued the building.
   "The atmosphere is so much different," said Fine.