Are all Georgia teachers getting the $3,000 raise approved by the Legislature and Gov. Brian Kemp?
It seems like a simple question, but teachers in some districts, including DeKalb, aren’t sure, based on how many are reaching out to the AJC for clarification or confirmation.
As one teacher wrote:
I have been made aware that Dekalb County will not be extending the raise and the funds will be utilized for an already proposed budgets and APS will not be extending the raise. City Schools of Decatur where I work has not finalized any decision but in a recent SLT meeting, teachers were told there would be some increase (but this is normal for us).
Another teacher wrote:
The rumor is that DeKalb County Schools is going to use the Kemp promised raise for all Georgia teachers to balance the DeKalb County Schools budget. DeKalb teachers got a raise at the beginning of the year (2019) to make up for lack of step raises since the "economic downturn" (2008). It seems that DeKalb is looking at the Kemp monies as a gift to balance the budget.
I am always concerned about how we report on raises approved by the Legislature as the process of translating additional state dollars into teacher raises is not that simple or clean.
It’s a bit like grandparents announcing they’re giving their grandkid the Camry they never drive anymore, but leaving it the parents to figure out if they can afford the insurance, the driving lessons and the registration fees. And also replace the engine.
The “state raise” doesn't cover the costs of locally funded positions, nor does it cover all the ancillary costs, so local districts often must re-inforce these raises with their own dollars. Most Georgia school districts now operate under flexibility agreements with the state that do not require them to pass along the $3,000 raise.
As a former AJC co-worker told me in an email after reading one too many news stories that cited the $3,000 raise:
Maybe the AJC could look again at how it characterizes the Legislature’s handling of teacher pay every year.
I would argue that the way the paper does it now is misleading readers into thinking the money appropriated in the annual budget is going directly to teacher paychecks. We know it isn’t.
The key to teacher pay raises is in what local school districts budget for personnel costs each year.
It’s up to local school boards to decide — not legislators — how much of a raise teachers (or other employees) will get, if any. They use the money made available to them through the state appropriation process in that decision. But other factors — some required by the state, some imposed by the districts — also play into how much of that money can go directly to teachers.
Wouldn’t it be better to characterize what the Legislature does each year as an appropriation to local school districts that can be used to determine teacher pay increases?
I understand that legislators would rather have voters believe that they are doling our teacher pay hikes directly to people in the classrooms, but they really aren’t, are they?
By oversimplifying the process as “a $3000 pay raise for Georgia’s teachers,” readers have every right to be confused about what happened and why.
The AJC has attempted to clarify this issue. When Gov. Nathan Deal promised state employees a $2,000 raise, the AJC did a long explainer about why teachers may not see all that money.
Among the points in the story:
Gov. Nathan Deal and lawmakers this year promised 200,000 teachers and state employees that they'd get 3 percent raises, their first substantial increase since before the Great Recession. While most state employees were expected to get increases, a Georgia Department of Education survey found that only 40 percent of school districts passed along the money as a salary hike.
About 40 percent more used at least some of the money on a one-time bonus -- not necessarily 3 percent -- for fear they couldn't afford to pay for the raise in the future if the state didn't continue funding it. Others used the extra raise money -- about $300 million statewide -- to reduce teacher furloughs left over from the recession or to fill holes in their school system budgets. Some districts, the Department of Education reported, are still having teachers take days off without pay to cut costs years after the recession ended.
How school systems used the pay-raise money shows the clear split between urban and rural, have and have-not districts in Georgia. The Department of Education survey shows most urban districts gave pay raises, although not all the full 3 percent. Most who used it to cut furloughs or give onetime bonuses were districts from small-town Georgia.
"There are systems across the state, small systems, that are just struggling to pay the bills," said Louis Fordham, a school board member in Whitfield County in far North Georgia. Warren County Superintendent Carole Jean Carey said her district was able to eliminate teacher furloughs with the pay-raise money. "When you are in a small, rural poverty area where the businesses have closed, and the tax base is declining, and your enrollment is declining, there is no way to give those raises right now," she said.
The mixed use of the money was due to the willingness of Deal and the General Assembly to give local school boards the flexibility to spend the money how they saw fit. In decades past, governors made a big deal out of announcing cost-of-living pay raises for teachers. Some teachers also are eligible for separate longevity raises, but it's the cost-of-living raises that typically get the attention of teachers and the public.
During the Great Recession, state officials deeply reduced school funding and stopped giving cost-of-living raises to teachers and state employees. Once the state was able to fund raises again, House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn said local school board members and superintendents asked for the flexibility to use the money for pay increases or to eliminate furloughs and build up school calendars that had been cut back during the recession. Lawmakers agreed. So, when Deal and legislators began putting money into the budget again for raises, it didn't necessarily mean the money would go for pay increases.
Now, back to DeKalb for the moment. I reached out to the district and was told:
The FY2020 Budget process is currently underway and will not be finalized until the end of June 2019. Presently, there are various options being worked on which include the referenced $3,000 per certificated employee.
Apparently, an issue in Dekalb will be those forementioned local dollars required to pay the additional costs to the Teachers Retirement System and Medicaid. While a state Department of Education official told a school board member those related costs would be covered by state funding, the numbers don’t quite add up, according to the member, who is seeking clarification from DOE.
Implementing the raise fully will cost DeKalb approximately $28 million, but its projected increase from the state through the Quality Basic Education funding formula is only $22,092,701, leaving the district on the hook for millions if it hands out the full state raise.
I asked some DeKalb school board members about where the raise stood and among the responses:
One board member said:
I do not envision any scenario where the teachers will not get that money and I am not aware of a single board member who favors anything less. But we need to meet and actually discuss and decide. The early iterations of our budget were built without it because we had to make sure it was actually enacted.
Another told me:
We are supposed to be passing a budget next month and the finance department hasn’t come out with it yet. They presented a four- page budget doc at the last board meeting and they were trying to spin the Governor’s raise and use it to pay for the January salary adjustments. Over the last few days board members and senior administrators have been meeting behind closed doors. It looks like the teacher raises in DeKalb will be in line with the other metro Atlanta school districts. Nothing is official yet. There are a lot of balls in the air right now.
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