By Karen Campbell
Special to the Press
An increase in local sales tax revenue translates into raises for all certified and non-certified Weakley County Schools employees in a nearly $42 million budget approved by the School Board Monday night. The proposed budget will next go to the County Commissioners for their review and approval of the local funding allocations.
Certified positions – teachers with licenses – are set to receive a 4% increase in the coming year. Non-certified personnel will receive a 5% bump. Non-certified employees – secretaries, educational assistants, cafeteria workers, etc. – saw a greater percentage increase due to having only received bonuses rather than raises last year.
Bus drivers who are paid by the day and the length of the route will now receive $71, $74 or $76 per day.
“We can thank our local communities for keeping Weakley County dollars in Weakley County,” said Randy Frazier, director of Weakley County Schools. “While being dependent upon sales tax can prove tenuous in economically challenged times, in this instance, we have benefitted. We also benefit from the state’s decision to hold school systems harmless for loss of students during the pandemic year. Had we not had that cushion, we could have seen a loss of close to $1,000,000.”
“Overall, we are trying to be more competitive with our compensation,” added Frazier. “We know that we provide the creative environment in which educators and staff can thrive. We want to take advantage of every opportunity we can to make accepting a role here be as attractive financially as it is professionally.”
The budget proposed and approved by the School Board details anticipated expenditures of local and federal monies including the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funding allocated as a response to the pandemic. ESSER funding increased the 2021-22 budget by approximately $4.2 million. Another $8.6 million in ESSER funds is anticipated for fall.
According to the Tennessee Department of Education, Tennessee public schools will receive over $4.5 billion in federal relief funding for use between spring 2020 and fall 2023– an historic influx of federal funding to support K-12 schools and students across the state. Districts will receive funding directly through the Tennessee Department of Education and will also have access to additional grant opportunities and free resources developed and provided by the department with its portion of federal funding.
ESSER funds are focused on efforts to address loss of learning such as the current Summer Scholars four-week program in Weakley County. Other previous and anticipated expenditures will encompass technical needs, teacher training, after school tutoring, and safety protocols.
Capital improvements are among the items covered in the third round of ESSER funding. Those requests are due in August.
ESSER allowed for the addition of interventionists roles. A new Physical Education position at the county level will ensure that all elementary schools have access to the personnel required to meet new state requirements of a total of one hour of PE per week for each student. Currently, students spend 40 minutes per week in PE. Corrie Neal, who has previously taught in Rutherford County and Wilson County, has accepted the position.
Federal funding will also be utilized to cover the costs of a new math coach for middle and high school. Wes Morgan, who has taught in Weakley County Schools since 2014, will assume this position.
Tracking the ESSER funds has necessitated an administrator who will assume the role for at least a four-year time span. The position has been posted and interviews are underway.
“When we look at the academic performance in our district that most needs to be strengthened, we land on math in middle school,” noted Frazier. “We must strengthen our rigor, improve our instruction, and lean into foundational skills and more stringent coursework. We have seen success with Megan Moore as our elementary math coach and will count on Wes and Megan to work together for our students to soon experience a smooth transition.”