Future salaries, however, could be affected.
The Tennessee Board of Education has passed changes to the state teacher’s salary pay schedule, changing the number of years a teacher must work to reach benchmarks and the number of benchmark increases provided.
Changes will not take effect until the 2014-15 school year, according to Cleveland City Schools Director Martin Ringstaff.
“Currently, we are very fortunate that the board and the director of schools have said they are not looking at changing for the coming year,” said Bradley County Education Association President Kane Ayres. “Our (Bradley County) pay schedule actually exceeds the state at this time.”
In fact, 133 of 135 school systems in the state have pay schedules that exceed the salary required by the changes. Ringstaff said Cleveland City Schools, as well as all the school systems in the Southeast, exceeded the required minimums in pay.
“If they do make any changes, we would sit down together with a teacher representative group and talk about what would work for both (teachers and the administrators),” Ayres said.
State base pay for teachers increased 1.5 percent this year. Cleveland and Bradley County teachers salaries are a combination of state and local funding.
“It was … through TEA efforts that we were able to get into the proposal that school districts can continue to use their local salary schedules for this coming year,” Ayres said.
Under the current state pay schedule, teachers have an increase after three years of experience. Under the new plan the increase would not be seen until the sixth year, according to Tennessee Department of Education information.
The state pay schedule had 18 pay increases. The city schools plan had more than 20. The new state plan narrows that to three, with increases at the first, sixth and 11th years. The current pay schedule has increases every year until a teacher has 20 years’ experience, then the increases stop. Under the new plan, schedule increases end after the 11th year. However, pay increases can still be given at the local level.
"What they were doing worked. It kept teachers teaching in the classroom. Now they might feel they are being punished. Yes, we have more money going into teachers’ salaries than ever before, but that was before this move," Ringstaff said.
How these changes will specifically affect local teachers in the future is uncertain.
"The first 21 years of your career you went up a step in the salary ladder. Now it has been shortened,” Ringstaff said. “What is going to happen between the three or so years between the steps to their cost of living allowances? That is what I want to know. I don’t have an answer for that.”
The increase a teacher receives after working 11 years would be the last pay schedule increase.
Ayres said the changes could have some negative results.
“We believe that it could have an impact on recruiting new teachers and retaining those teachers,” Ayres said.
The state department also changed the number of pay increase for teachers with advanced degrees.
These changes will only affect new teachers.
"Everybody up to this point is grandfathered in, you cannot cut their pay," Ringstaff said.
He also voiced concerns that teachers will not go back to school to receive a master’s or doctorate degree if they would not be making significantly more money.
"There is more coming from the state on how we are going to do it, so we have been really reluctant to answer questions,” Ringstaff said. “I don’t want to mislead [teachers]."
The new pay schedule also does not distinguish between types of advanced degrees for new teachers.
“Basically you have your bachelor’s degree level and everything above that is another pay scale, it wouldn’t matter if you had a master’s, doctorate — it’s the same thing,” said BCEA president-elect Missy Bandley.
BCEA also has concerns that limiting incentives for advanced degrees may have an effect on the number of teachers who have master’s of doctorate degrees
“The BCEA thinks that having well-educated teachers in every classroom is in the best interests of the students in Bradley County,” Ayres said.
School systems will also be required to submit differentiated pay plans to the state to offer additional compensation for teachers “in hard to staff subject areas and schools,” based on TBOE information. Bradley County Schools already has such a plan, according to Ayres. Cleveland City Schools offers stipends to teachers working at the alternative high school, The Teen Learning Center, according to Ringstaff.
With fewer scheduled increases, teachers stand to make $61,085 less over a 30-year career than under the previous schedule, according to Tennessee Educators Association information. This amount of reduced earnings is greater for those who have an advanced degree.