Sullivan to examine teacher pay, benefits

Rick Wagner • Dec 27, 2019 at 11:34 AM

GREENEVILLE — Sullivan County and other educational officials believe teaching is a calling, but if so, folks aren’t answering very often.

With teaching becoming a less attractive profession for various reasons, Tennessee School Boards Association Executive Director Tammy Grissom said the Metropolitan Nashville school system began the 2019-20 academic year with 160 teaching vacancies, and she predicted such shortages soon will hit Sullivan County and Northeast Tennessee.

“Teaching is a calling,” Sullivan County Director of Schools David Cox said. “The call is getting squashed.”


A teaching career can be rewarding but also challenging, and members of the Sullivan County Board of Education at its annual retreat Dec. 2 in Greeneville said teacher pay is a major issue. At the end of the retreat, the BOE indicated a desire to improve teacher pay, starting with a salary and benefits analysis

Chairman Michael Hughes said he recently saw a full-time teacher working a side job in a store to make ends meet and that with starting pay of $36,000 for county teachers, adequate compensation is a major need.

Randall Jones said it would have taken $7 million a few years ago for the county to match the Bristol, Tenn., school system’s pay scale and would likely be more now. He said that did not include benefits.

The process of equalizing pay would be difficult because County Commission funding for the county system by state law is shared with the Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City systems proportional to their share of students.

“Hawkins County pays more than we do,” Jane Thomas said.

Hughes said the county’s efforts to consolidate schools, including the opening of Sullivan East Middle in January and West Ridge High in August 2021, will help cut costs and make more money available for improvements, including increasing employee pay. But Jones and Paul Robinson said it is hard to blame a younger teacher for leaving the county for a city system in order to make $10,000 to $12,000 more, even if retirement and long-term health insurance is a better deal for county teachers.

Mark Ireson said the elephant in the room is that for decades all employers in Sullivan County are “competing against the big E” (Eastman Chemical Co.) in Kingsport. However, Hughes said Eastman is a great corporate citizen across the county and the region, supporting educational and other initiatives that improve the quality of life.

“They’ve got their hands up in my end of the county,” Hughes said.

Ireson said he didn’t mean that he’s not thankful for Eastman.

Hughes lamented that the only statewide list Sullivan County may top these days is being No. 1 in the number of drug-addicted babies born here.

Among other things discussed at the retreat  were a five-year facilities plan tied into the strategic plan, better communication about the school system’s successes, including the possible hiring of a public information officer who would partly be paid using money freed up from a recently ended marketing contract costing $25,000 a year.