Local teachers' salaries same as state: Bottom third in nation

By Julie Fann
star staff

Teachers in the Carter County and Elizabethton City schools are being paid less than two thirds of the nation's teachers. The national average teacher's salary is $43,335, while the average salary for teachers in Elizabethton City schools is just $26,945. For the third year in a row, Tennessee ranks 32 out of all 50 states, according to a recent study conducted by the National Education Association.
   The average salary for Tennessee teachers, $37,431, is below that of other southeastern states, including Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. The NEA study reported Georgia as having the highest teacher's salary in the southeast, at $42,216.
   "I think anyone would agree that the pay here is really dismal. The problem that we have is that, in recruiting teachers for our system, in the mid-summer when we interview, they may choose to go to another state system for four or five thousand dollars more a year, and you can't blame them for that," Elizabethton High School Principal Ed Alexander said.
   According to the Tennessee Education Association, Carter County teachers, whose salary is $25,927 ($1,018 less than city school teachers), are paid less than teachers in Sullivan or Washington County. Teachers in Washington County who have a bachelor's degree and no experience receive an average starting salary of $26,877. Teachers with the same criteria in Sullivan County start at approximately $26,440. Only Greene County teachers receive less than those in Carter County. They get an average starting pay of $25,825.
   School officials say they are floating in strange limbo waiting to hear about state funding for the coming year. With the state facing a budget shortfall of $350 million, local education administrators wonder what's going to happen. "We're basically looking for how we're going to maintain what we have. There's so much uncertainty out there with the state budget," said Carter County School Superintendent Dallas Williams.
   Because several Carter County teachers will be retiring this year, Williams is looking at having to fill those positions while also considering the possibility of removing others due to budget cuts. "We don't have any idea at this time how many positions will be cut. It will be those that are as far removed from the classroom as possible because we have to meet state mandates," he said. Williams explained that 24 percent of teacher's salaries for the county comes from local funding, and the rest comes from the state. "We've even lost teachers to Elizabethton City schools because they pay more," Williams said.
   Superintendent of Elizabethton City Schools Judy Blevins says her concern is the possibility of the DOG's budget being passed. "We have been told to expect a 1.2 million dollar cut to our school system from the state department if that passes. That's a lot of money. That would be devastating to any school system. We only have a 13 million dollar budget anyway."
   Several teachers who are non-tenured have come to Blevins expressing concern for job security. "I tell them to contact their legislator. I've tried to reassure them that we'll make every attempt to keep their jobs; that we will look at other areas to cut before we consider personnel. But when you're talking about 1.2 million dollars, that may be difficult."
   On top of the budget concerns, the city school system is also worried about getting students from the recently annexed west end of Carter County. Blevins said the board is waiting for the results from a city census that will give them some idea of how many students to expect. "What I'm concerned about is that I would have to remove tuition-paying students who had been in our system since kindergarten, and let's say, now they're in the fourth grade, because we get this influx of students. That's pretty traumatic for a child, and that's the last thing that I want to happen," she said.