KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Knox County Schools unveiled its proposed budget for the 2023 fiscal year on Tuesday.
The proposal includes the potential for a 4% salary increase for teachers and other certified and classified staff. It suggests an 8% increase for other staff, such as custodial, clerical and educational assistance staff. It also proposes the idea of adding more than 65 new jobs.
The increase in teacher pay is consistent with the district's commitment to the Knox County Educators Association. According to Virginia Babb, a Knox County Board of Education member, the BOE is working with the union to keep salaries rising alongside inflation.
"I think that's been one of our biggest issues is losing people, if they can go down the street and make 50 cents more or something like that," she said. "We've made an agreement with the teachers union here to try to do at least 4% a year, and under Superintendent Bob Thomas, we have, for the last few years, been able to do that."
For most years in Knox County, teacher salaries grew more than inflation rates; however, so far in 2022 that is not the case.
The salary may not be keeping up with inflation this year, but school board members still consider it to be a relatively 'easy' budget year.
"There are years where we have to make cuts and they're tough cuts, but this is luckily a year that we're not having to do that," Babb said.
Years ago, KCS was forced to make some staff cutbacks. In 2023, the new proposed budget points to new positions opening up.
"There were so many years that we were cutting positions, and that hurts families and hurts teachers. So to be able to add these positions is just phenomenal, as well as the fact that a lot of those have to do with mental health," said Patti Bounds, a school board member.
According to the CDC, mental health is an "ongoing health concern in young people." That's why KCS said they want to invest in the services they can provide students.
"It makes our teachers' lives easier if they have other support staff that can help with the emotional and social well-being of our students," Babb said.
During the budget meeting on Tuesday evening, KCS Superintendent Bob Thomas said this budget proposal follows a "multi-year plan to try to get the ratios of social workers and counselors up to what the national standard is."
The proposal suggested adding eight social workers and seven counselors to the district. The board said there is a great need for these positions to be filled.
"So many of our schools have shared those positions for many, many years. And it's hard to juggle," Bounds said. "If you're a social worker, and you have to spend time between two or three different schools, it takes a bit of time to commute, and you're managing a lot of students."
Babb said she has spoken to several school counselors who said they are spread thin.
"They would very much appreciate being more dedicated to one school instead of being split among multiple schools," Babb said.
Knox County Schools leaders said in a statement they "believe that it is more important than ever to meet the social-emotional needs of our students."
"Many of the positions represent an investment in the 'whole' child by funding additional facilitators, school counselors, and social workers. It also includes an investment in critical staffing for Student Supports including Special Education teachers, educational assistants, and psychologists as well as in the English Language Learner Welcome Center," KCS said in a statement.
"So many of our children have suffered through COVID that we have a real need for, you know, social workers and mental health workers and all those emotional components for the children," Bounds said.
The proposed budget still has a few weeks before it will be set in stone.
The school board will vote on it on Wednesday, April 27. Then, it will be presented to the Knox County Commission for approval.