School Board member Mike Chapman, who served at his last meeting on Thursday after 19 years in office, was recognized for his longtime service.
The Cherokee County School Board on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022 approved mid-year bonuses for teachers and support staff and heard plans to increase salaries for next school year.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower proposed the one-time supplemental payments of $1,000 for eligible full-time employees and $500 permanent part-time employees, which will be issued in this month’s paychecks, to show appreciation for their continued service.
The bonuses for CCSD’s 5,000 full- and part-time employees total $5.57 million. They are possible -- even with this year’s reduction in the millage tax rate for property owners -- due to the state legislature fully funding its educational formula, lower than expected insurance premiums and strong fiscal stewardship by the School Board.
Dr. Hightower during the meeting spoke about plans to further improve compensation for teachers and support staff. The Office of Human Resources recently conducted a thorough salary study, which evaluated all salaries and made adjustments to remain competitive.
Based on that study, Dr. Hightower said Thursday he will include the following improvements in his recommended budget for next school year, which is up for a School Board vote in June:
• All eligible teachers will receive a longevity salary “step” and an additional raise of at least $2,500. The average total increases (including the raise and step) will be: 7% for teachers with bachelor’s degrees and/or master’s degrees; 5% for teachers with specialist and/or doctorate degrees. The starting teacher salary will increase to $51,500 from $49,000.
• All returning and new employees will receive a retention bonus in September mirroring this month’s mid-year bonus structure.
• School psychologists and speech language pathologists will receive a step and an additional raise of $4,000.
• Assistant principals will receive a step and an additional raise of $2,500.
• Employees who are considered “classified” (non-teachers) will receive 3% plus a step raise.
• New salary schedules were created for certified specialists/lead positions/special education facilitators, school psychologists, speech language pathologists, clerical, Support Services and Technology & Information Services staff.
• The step schedule will expand from 29 to 30 years for teachers, and to 25 years for all non-teachers.
• Supplemental pay rates will be increased for additional roles including academic, coaching and support.
“This is a considerable investment to ensure we retain and recruit the best possible teachers and support staff to serve our students,” said Dr. Hightower, noting the proposed costs, including bonuses, steps, raises and other adjustments total more than $20 million. “The most important factor in a student’s success at school is an outstanding teacher. We need to show our teachers we value their critically important role in our schools and our community.”
School Board members thanked Dr. Hightower and his staff for developing the proposals.
“This is a great step in the right direction,” School Board Chair Kyla Cromer said. “You have done a lot.”
School Board member Clark Menard said he appreciated the salary study and supports efforts to be competitive, but cautioned that no one can win the teacher pay “arms race” with Cobb. Other factors for teacher recruitment, such as Cherokee County’s better quality of life than other communities, also should be explored and used to CCSD’s advantage.
The School Board on Thursday also approved its 2023 Legislative Partnership Priorities, an annual report outlining its stand on education issues anticipated to come up during the legislative session. The report is used by the School Board to begin dialogue with state legislators each session and also is a tool for citizens to use when communicating with their legislators about education issues.
The Priorities call upon the state to again fully fund its state educational funding formula and to increase teacher compensation – and not as bonuses, but permanent raises in the state salary schedule. The School Board also is asking for the state formula to be revised to allow for safety and security funding (which currently is not a part of the formula), and adjusted to increase transportation funding and to lower the counselor to student ratio through the allotment of more funds.
Other highlights include the School Board’s continued campaign to allow for diploma choices for high school students, to eliminate schools as polling places, and to support local control of education. The School Board also supports the creation of a special charter designation for Mountain Educational Charter High School, as the state legislature this past session cut its state funding to levels that won’t sustain operations. Mountain Ed provides an in-person evening high school option for the community’s students, who have benefitted from its additional services such as individual mentoring.
School Board member Patsy Jordan, a retired CCSD teacher who now works with Mountain Ed in Pickens County, said she has heard from Mountain Ed students who will just drop out of high school if the program ends.
“If the [legislators] who make the decisions want to have that on their hands, then let them sleep with that,” she said, as she expressed her frustration over the state’s decision to cut its funding.
The School Board on Thursday also voted to commit $32.5 million of reserves in its operating budget for upcoming construction projects, while still maintaining a healthy 15% in reserves. This move will allow the school district the flexibility to reduce the amount it needs to borrow through bonding, especially as construction costs continue to rise due to inflation. Mr. Menard thanked Dr. Hightower and his staff for their efforts to fulfil the School Board’s goal of reducing borrowing in favor of more “pay as you go” opportunities.
The rising costs of construction also impacted another decision by the School Board on Thursday, as it voted to send the proposals for the Creekland Middle School classroom addition and Creekview High School new gym and classroom addition projects back to the drawing board. Dr. Hightower said he will ask the architects to look for possible design changes that could reduce construction costs before advertising the projects for new construction proposals.
“We want to build a quality building for them, but we want to be fiscally responsible,” Ms. Cromer said.
Another highlight of Thursday’s meeting was the recognition of School Board member Mike Chapman, who served at his last meeting after 19 years in office. Mr. Chapman, who did not seek re-election, is unable to attend next month’s meeting due to work obligations. He received tributes from fellow School Board members and Dr. Hightower, an award recognizing his longtime service and a standing ovation.
Mr. Chapman, who is known for his longtime support for public education, career and technical education and school choice within CCSD, thanked the community, his fellow School Board members and his family including his wife, Mary, a retired teacher.
“He has given a significant service to his county,” Dr. Hightower said. “He’s always tried to push forward the idea that a technical education can be a great thing for our children.”
The School Board also:
• Recognized National Educational Support Professionals Day. Learn more here;
• Recognized CCSD Police Chief Buster Cushing for his appointment to a Georgia POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training Council) statewide ad hoc committee formed to review school safety. Learn more here;
• Congratulated School Board Vice Chair Rick Steiner and School Board member John Harmon on their re-election earlier this month, and congratulated newly elected School Board members Dr. Susan Padgett-Harrison and Erin Ragsdale, who will be sworn into office in January;
• Announced that CCSD has earned a $50,000 Workforce for Georgia Grant Program grant from Georgia Power and the Georgia Foundation for Public Education to support the Career Pathway program in Energy and Power: Generation, Transmission and Distribution at Cherokee High School. This grant will allow for the construction of a hands-on lab where high school students can learn skills for careers in the energy and power industry;
• Recognized CCSD students and coaches named Georgia High School Association state and regional champions. Learn more here;
• Recognized Etowah HS JROTC students named as national champions in the Raider National Championships. Learn more here;
• Recognized CCSD VILLA Program Class of 2022-23 participants. Learn more here;
• Approved the renewal of the Partnership Agreement with The Atlanta Area Council Boy Scouts of America;
• Approved monthly financial reports;
• Approved out of state staff travel;
• Approved out of state and overnight student field trips;
• Approved withdrawing the previously submitted state-required fiscal year 2024 Capital Outlay Funding Application to make updates and resubmit; and,
• Approved the monthly personnel report.