Updated at 11 a.m.
Mayor John Cooper is reassuring teachers and support staff that they will get the 3% pay increase promised by his predecessor, despite a budget crunch.
Cooper held a press conference at the Metro Courthouse this morning with school leaders to announce that he will go forward with cost-of-living adjustments scheduled for January. Those were first laid out by then-Mayor David Briley this summer.
Since then, the city’s financial outlook has seemed to worsen, with the state comptroller threatening dramatic actions unless Metro rebalances its books. But Cooper says those budget woes won’t be cured by taking money away from teachers.
“The holidays are coming up, and teachers have a right to know whether we’re going to deliver on the past promise,” he said. “This is actually getting it done in an effective way — and in an appropriate way.”
The source of the funding will change, however. Briley intended to fund the pay increase by reworking a deal between Metro Schools and the Metro Development and Housing Agency, freeing up $7.5 million that could go to teacher salaries.
That refinancing went through in September, but now, only one-third will go to the pay increase. The remainder will come from the district itself, which Cooper says has been spending less than projected this year.
“The $7.5 (million) was never available to schools, and particularly not in the current environment,” Cooper said. “The concerns raised by the comptroller’s letter about our finances, we’re going to work the problem and we’re going to find good answers for the community.”
The arrangement will require approval next month from the Metro school board and the Metro Council. It’s also not permanent; extending the raises into the future will require careful budgeting. Both the city and the district are running low on cash and could face a crisis by the summer.
The pay increase has the support of not only Cooper’s office, but also school leaders and the chair of the Metro Council’s education committee, Delishia Porterfield.
Amanda Kail, the head of the organization that represents the city’s teachers, was also on hand for the announcement. She’s pleased teachers will get a raise but disappointed that it took so long.
“I think one of the issues that we’ve had here in Nashville is that school funding has been sort of a last-minute scramble every year,” she says. “We need to stop thinking of it as something that’s an unexpected expense and think about it as something that is a bill we’ve got to pay every year.”
Nashville’s mayor has an update coming Tuesday morning about teacher pay in Metro Schools.
The announcement follows a recent warning from the Nashville teachers’ union, which doesn’t want officials to cancel the pay raises that were promised during campaign season.
“So many candidates ran on promises to raise teacher salaries and increase funding for our schools, but then we went back to school this year to chronically underfunded schools,” said Amanda Kail, president of the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association. “That is unacceptable. Like the Chicago teachers, we want to put our demands in a contract that guarantees we can defend our students.”
As Mayor John Cooper prepares his update, the backdrop is a tense recent history regarding teacher pay.
Two years ago, raises for Metro employees — including teachers — were rescinded.
In the most recent budget, teachers and staff got 3% raises over the summer. And then-Mayor David Briley also orchestrated an additional, mid-year pay raise to take effect in January.
Meanwhile, Cooper made even bigger school funding promises while running for office.
But what the city can afford now has become a question. The state comptroller detailed Metro’s extremely tight finances earlier this month and said the city needs to consider a mix of spending cuts and tax increases.