Knox County Schools superintendent pushes for teacher raises in 2nd open letter

Knox County Interim Superintendent Buzz Thomas
Knox County Interim Superintendent Buzz Thomas

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Knox County Schools Interim Superintendent Buzz Thomas issued his second open letter to county residents on Wednesday, saying the school system wants more teachers to work in Knox County, which includes possible raises next year.

Thomas’s number one priority is reading. He says too many third graders aren’t reading on grade level. Second is college and career readiness as too many high school seniors, according to the school system, are scoring below ACT benchmarks.

More: Read the full letter [PDF]

Third is individualized learning, with or without one-to-one technology. “This includes such innovative multiple pathways to success as our Career Magnet Academy, International Baccalaureate Program, L&N Stem Academy, Paul Kelly Academy and Accessing Community Employment (ACE) with the Great Schools Partnership, which helps students with disabilities build promising pathways to social and financial independence,” reads the letter.

Fourth is the elimination of educational disparities based on economic status, race and disabilities.

The school board added a fifth priority to the list at its October retreat, saying they want the school system to be an “employer of choice.” They want more teachers to choose Knoxville as the city in which they want to work. They are asking the state to let them customize the teacher evaluation system. They also say they will work with the governor, mayor and county commission to try to find the resources to give teachers a four percent pay raise next year.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett issued a statement Thursday saying while he supports teacher raises, the question is how they will be paid for.

“While we all support teacher raises, the question is how will the school administration pay for them? We made an agreement – signed a memorandum of understanding – not to spend more money than we take in. Ultimately, the school system has control over how it chooses to allocate funds, and any increased spending, including raises, will have to fit within existing revenue.”

Thomas said in an interview Thursday with WATE 6 On Your Side that he plans to honor the agreement and thinks he can make the teacher raises work within the existing budget.

“We will not be asking for a tax increase this year,” said Thomas. “We may not be able to do it, but we’re going to aim to meet that four percent raise.”

Thomas says he also expects some additional support from the state to pay for the raises, which will total around $10 million.

Thomas also addressed the search for a new permanent superintendent. He says the community input has been appreciated and a three person search committee has been formed made up of board members Susan Horn, Tony Norman and Amber Rountree, who will serve as chair.

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