The budget committee for the Robertson County Commission rejected the Robertson County Board of Education's request for funding teacher pay raises at a committee meeting on Tuesday night, June 27.
Budget Committee Chair Keith Hoover said the school district's budget will have to go back to the board of education without the five cents requested from property taxes.
Hoover said the goal for Robertson County budgets for all departments is to be adequately funded with the current property tax rate of $3.085. The value of the penny is being set at $137,500.
With final revenue numbers anticipated by July 11 or July 18, the county's General Fund balance includes a 1.5 percent pay raise for county employees. An additional one percent pay raise could also be included.
Schools director Mike Davis, who retires from his position June 30, requested the commission provide five cents for the school district's teachers, which would be enough to generate about a $700 pay raise per year, per teacher.
Davis called the budget committee's rejection an embarrassment to Robertson County.
"For eight years, the county commission has put zero dollars in the budget for teacher salaries," Davis said, and reminded the commissioners that Robertson County is ranked 120th out of 142 districts in Tennessee with teacher salaries, but it has the sixth highest per capita income in the state.
"We are the lowest paid school district in Middle Tennessee, bar none," Davis said. "Even Cheatham County pays higher than we do for an average salary. I would ask that you reconsider and fund the budget as it has been presented."
Davis said the school board is not asking for much.
"We should be asking twice that amount to get us to where we can compete with Montgomery County, so that we can compete with Sumner County and so we can compete with other counties around Middle Tennessee," Davis said. "We're not competing at all."
The committee members pointed out that not all other counties offer the benefits package that Robertson County offers to teachers.
"Four years ago, we took 10 percent of the benefit away and didn't give them anything to replace it with," Davis said. "If you cut it again, you're not going to give them any money. Disregarding benefits, for eight years you have given them nothing locally...Put something on the table for teachers. Don't leave them out."
Davis said the parents, the teachers and the business community should all be supportive of the pay raises.
"If you want good schools, you've got to pay for them," Davis said. "They're not free."
Robertson County Mayor Howard Bradley suggested meeting with the budget committee and incoming schools director Chris Causey after the end of the month to see if the county could compromise its decision with the school district.
The mayor said he's concerned with people outside the community seeing the ranking of teacher pay in Robertson County.
"That is not good public relations for our county and it is not a morale builder for our teachers," Bradley said. "So, I hope this is not the final word."
Davis did not agree with Hoover's suggestion for the school district to use its own funds for the teacher raises.
"What you're saying commissioner is to take my savings account and live on it this month," Davis answered. "Then, after that, I don't have any savings account. That's eating your seed corn. That's bad public policy and that's bad for private business."
"So, you're asking the county to take it out of their fund balance?" Hoover asked. "You don't want to take it out of yours, but you want to take it out of the county's? Is that where we're going?"
Davis said he didn't want to balance the county's budget on the backs of teachers.
"That's what you're doing," Davis said. "Your county is going to have a hard time climbing out of this hole two years from now."
The committee members disagreed. Hoover said he disagreed whole-heartedly.
"You're welcome to your opinion," Davis said. "I've been doing this for 29 years, commissioner, and I have a lot of foresight in how you do budgets. I have to tell you...you're dead wrong."
The next meeting of the budget committee is scheduled for Tuesday, July 11, one day following the next scheduled meeting of the board of education.