CLINTON, Tenn. — Just a few miles can cause a nearly $20,000 difference in how much teachers make, leading some educators to change districts in search of greener pastures, a state report said.
In one example, Anderson pays about $18.5 thousand dollars less than Oak Ridge City Schools — even though this city district is in Anderson County.
Tim Parrott, the Anderson County Director of Schools, said the difference is the tax base. Both districts get the same amount of state and county funding, but Oak Ridge can augment their salary budgets with money from city taxes.
Even with salary increases approved by the county commission, he said the district has lost some staff members to Alcoa and Maryville City Schools — which both also pay well above the state average.
Money isn't everything, he acknowledged, "but it helps." In its absence, he said the district promotes its mentoring and professional development programs and its financial incentives for afterschool work.
"We retain almost 90 percent of our teachers," Parrott said. "The biggest majority stay with us for the whole life of their career."
In Knox County, the head of the education association said it's COVID stress, not salary that's leading to more teacher resignations.
"It’s been an exhausting and overwhelming year," Paula Hancock said. "I’m not sure if people are leaving because of the lack of salary or they’re leaving the profession."
She said the education association and the district aim for a four percent salary increase annually, but don't always have the money budgeted. Hancock said an ongoing debate in the legislature over the state's funding formula will have a impact on salary differences moving forward.
"We need to fully fund public school education in this state so that we can recruit and we can retain teachers and we can support our students," she said.
Statewide, classroom teachers reportedly make $52,500 a year on average, according to the comptroller's dashboard. Licensed educators were typically paid a little more, averaging $55,000 a year across the state. City-run districts paid significantly more compared to county, with school systems like Oak Ridge and Maryville both paying roughly $67,000 on average for K-12 classroom teachers.