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Sullivan BOE, SCEA contract negotiations hit snag over raise

CHRISTAN M. THOMAS • Apr 16, 2007 at 11:33 AM

BLOUNTVILLE - Salary negotiations between the Sullivan County Board of Education and the Sullivan County Education Association ended in a stalemate Monday, with the SCEA sticking to a proposed 7 percent raise for teachers and the BOE adamant about going no higher than 5 percent.

"We represent the teachers, and we can speak fairly well for the teachers," said SCEA chief negotiator Ruth Williams. "Five percent is just not enough. We've been very patient in the past. We've understood. We've listened. We've given in. I think it's time that someone said, ‘You know, you're worth what you do and it's time we pay you.'"

BOE representatives agreed that teachers deserve a raise but said a large raise in one year would not be approvable and would have negative effects on the rest of the budget.

"Even though we get direction from the board, and from Mr. (Superintendent Glenn) Arwood, I think 5 percent is good, I really do," said Sullivan County BOE chief negotiator and Assistant Director of Schools Jack Barnes. "You can't make an increase up all at one time. … I don't think the board will ratify it because of the funding. You may get a 7 percent raise here, but it may have a rippling effect throughout the budget."

According to the SCEA, Sullivan County ranks 86th in Tennessee counties for salaries of teachers with bachelor's degrees. The SCEA asked for a 4 percent to 7 percent raise for teachers this year.

During negotiations last week, SCEA representatives reported the results of a survey in which 74 percent of the 350 teachers surveyed said they would consider working elsewhere for higher pay. In addition, 46 percent of those surveyed work a second job to supplement their income.

On the other hand, BOE negotiators said both sides have to be realistic in their assessment of raises in context of the system's entire budget and sources of revenue.

"We need to look at if we take a budget over there (to the County Commission) and we need more revenue, if they would support it," Barnes said. "We're not by ourselves. We're not on an island here. We're not the only ones that go over asking for money.

"And we're going to have other increases in our budget besides salary. We're going to have non-personnel issues in our budget that we may have to increase. …We're going to be allocated ‘X' amount of dollars. How we spread that within our budget will be determined by the board once we know what we're going to get from the state and everywhere else."

Both sides agreed that teachers deserve a raise. Now they must agree on how much.

"No matter what salary we agree on, you all deserve it. You all deserve the raise," said Sullivan County Schools Transportation Supervisor Bill Copas. "I think Mr. Arwood is committed to getting you as much as he possibly can."

Negotiations will continue April 25 at 12:30 p.m. in Room 212 of the system's Central Office.

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