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Mayor John Cooper commits to raises promised to Nashville teachers

Nashville teachers will get the 3% raise in January they were promised.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper announces his commitment to mid-year teacher raises. (Photo: Jason Gonzales / The Tennessean)


Nashville teachers will get the 3% raise in January they were promised.


The increase is the second for school employees, part of a promised two-phase cost-of-living raise in the 2019-20 school year promised by former Mayor David Briley. Teachers received a 3% cost-of-living raise in July.


But whether Cooper would honor the promise came under question recently by the city's teachers union amid scrutiny of Nashville's finances by the state comptroller's office. 

"At a time when we're struggling with teacher attrition and our rising cost of living, directing additional funds to our educators is essential," Cooper said during a Tuesday morning news conference. "And I hope this announcement brings a little peace of mind to teachers as they head into a much deserved Thanksgiving holiday season."


With the raise secured for educators, the focus is set to shift toward how the city can fund further pay increases for educators on an ongoing basis. Teachers and school board members want a major cash influx for educator wages, likely setting the stage for another debate about whether to raise taxes


School board Chair Anna Shepherd applauded Cooper for keeping the city's promise to educators. She also said she's advocated for the city to raise taxes to fund schools in previous years.


Shepherd hasn't talked with Cooper about the upcoming budget season.

"I do believe that he'll find a way, whether we raise taxes or not," she said.


Paying with one-time funds 


Nashville's current budget includes an estimated $41.5 million from a private parking deal and the sale of the city's downtown energy system, both one-time sources of money. But the parking deal is dead and the energy system sale is in limbo.


As a result, the city must find other ways to balance its budget by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, as required by state law. Then next fiscal year, the city must figure out a way to balance its budget again and provide the money needed for all of its services and priorities — including funding for education.


The raises for teachers are slated to come from one-time money and the school board and city will need to secure a longterm solution to fund the raises.


The mid-year raises will cost $7.5 million, and Cooper said Tuesday that $2.5 million will come from Metro Development and Housing Agency funding, with the remainder coming from a Metro Nashville Public Schools reserve balance.


MDHA had transferred $7.5 million for the raises to the city in September but city officials said only a portion could go toward teacher raises.


The final approval for the January raises will need council and school board approval, Cooper said. 


Both Cooper and school board leaders said they want to make the raise permanent in the 2020-21 budget.


"It's just gonna have to be folded into whatever budget we propose to the mayor and the council," said Gini Pupo-Walker, the school boar's budget chair. "I am worried about everything we want to accomplish and unless we have some type of tax increase, we are going to be in a serious hole." 


Talk of raises not over 


Initially, the Metro Nashville Education Association — the city's teacher union — raised alarm over whether the raise would happen. Teachers are expected to lead a vocal charge to secure further raises. 


MNEA President Amanda Kail said the "obvious solution" is to begin exploring a tax increase.


"I know that it is a difficult political ask but it's why we elected the people that we elected," she said Tuesday, "because they said they wanted to support our schools." 


A Nashville schools study released in October found to bring teacher pay up to the median average in the city, it could cost more than $100 million. It also found Nashville teachers are paid less than peer urban districts and mid-career teacher pay isn't competitive for the region. 


In November, Cooper also announced a new teacher pay study. It is slated as a comprehensive study to understand how to better attract and retain teachers


The district has struggled, at times, to attract and retain employees due in part to pay.


Kail said the pressure will again be on from Nashville schools employees to find a solution.


"If you want to be the 'it city,' then you need to fully fund your schools," Kail said. "And if you want to fully fund your schools you need to be a part of the solution."


Reach Jason Gonzales at jagonzales@tennessean.com and on Twitter @ByJasonGonzales.

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