Salary Increases Needed, Alinsky Tactics Are Not


I have advocated and fought for increases in teacher salaries for educators over the decades. Beyond mere rhetoric, I actually talk to those policymakers at the state level who set the budget which largely determines salaries. We know that many teachers still struggle to support their own families, particularly in places where the cost of living is higher. That is unacceptable.

Salaries must be a priority, and we believe that based on our candid conversations with policymakers that include Governor Lee, Commissioner Schwinn and the Tennessee General Assembly that they will likely put forth a robust plan to ensure tax dollars are allocated for teacher salaries in 2020 by the State of the State. This is a challenge that policymakers must tackle in order to recruit and retain effective educators in our classrooms, as well as keep needed to support personnel and staff.

State Senator Todd Gardenhire and State Representative Mike Carter have been asking a critical question for the purpose of salary increases, “What exactly constitutes a teacher?” It is a good question, in which policymakers and stakeholders alike need to answer and reach consensus, in order to tie to funding.

While it is as accurate to say that the state has allocated more dollars toward teacher salaries, local school systems are funding more than the number of positions that the state of Tennessee provides through our state funding formula known as the Basic Education Program (BEP). The General Assembly passed legislation last year to increase transparency. The legislation now requires local education agencies to report to the Department of Education how additional funds are used each year when a Local Education Agency receives increased funding from the state for salaries and wages. Some of the BEP dollars allocated for salary increases over the years have been used to cover other costs, such as additional personnel and health insurance.

It is indisputable that after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, school districts and school personnel saw escalating cost increases in health insurance premiums. The increase was triggered when the federal legislation gave many people without medical coverage and pre-existing conditions health care coverage. An essential element to any salary discussion must include an examination of the impact on health care benefits provided to system employees and cost. Politicians reason that the sky-high premiums are balanced by holding down the rate of spending on medical services. For school districts and teachers, it also means a further lack of salary increase and rising health care costs. Managing benefits, especially health insurance costs, will allow school districts to stay competitive and attract and retain employees.

The Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) concluded that the available financial data for districts does not permit tracking salary expenditures back to their revenue sources. District budgets do not identify what portion of expenditures are paid for with state funds versus local funds. That certainly needs to be corrected. This raises questions when local educators try to determine salary increases, as they do not factor in these details in local discussions.

Nashville and Chattanooga have seen some very angry debates take place over education salaries. It is interesting that in both of these cities, teacher union leaders have historically impacted local elections, with political endorsements and political donations, with member dollars electing “their” people. In Nashville, union leaders endorsed at least the last four Mayors, and it appears where teacher vacancies are among the highest, and teacher satisfaction is among the lowest. In both cities, the union has funded school board members and candidates. Obviously, they have little return to show for those efforts as salary increases have not kept up with the cost of living.

Nashville and Chattanooga are also where the antagonism and discontent surface greatest and are the most vitriolic. The union leader solution is the blind faith in the power of controlling politicians through the use of members’ dues for political donations that have not worked. Endorsements and political donations have just not made the teacher’s lives better. Most teachers are slowly coming to realize this brutal fact.

Former NEA leader, John Lloyd, stated his union used Saul Alinsky as a consultant to train their staff. When their strategy fails to deliver results for educators, union leaders have to display faux anger and/or misdirection. They will mention, “Toxic work environments, overwhelming workloads, not enough teaching resources, unfair evaluations, school buildings badly in need of repair, not enough support for students, violence, and trauma, debilitating levels of stress, being expected to work more and more while wages stagnate.” However, their Alinsky tactics helped create those very conditions.  Like Alinsky, union leaders are more focused on transitioning from helping teachers (labor) to more community organizing. They may have had some good intentions, but good intentions don’t help educators. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. For more on who Saul Alinsky read: 

Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd, was just as direct in his response to his local union leaders and their tactics in the Chattanoogan, “What you are doing will not work, and you are complaining to the wrong people. How many times must you be told that it was the School Board who failed to give teachers a raise, not the Commission. The School Board had plenty of money, but the board, along with you as the teacher representative, placed hiring more staff above teacher salaries. Even worse, you as the union president placed absolutely no value on seniority and years of service when deciding to give out Christmas bonuses.” Boyd identified the root of the angst and problem. However, teachers and others are still caught in the crossfire.

There is much need by the state to develop a more complete overview and understanding of salary trends by local districts and the state must understand its role in this process. We must update our K12 funding formula to reflect changing 21st century needs. As a businessman, Governor Bill Lee is well-positioned to push for a new funding plan and formula that reflects our modern educational mission, priorities, and strategies. Salaries have to be addressed as a critical component of that plan.

The single most important factor in student success are teachers, so compensating educators has to be critical for any public policy or future funding formula. We must support our teachers and make sure that the dollars allocated by the state and local government for salaries actually reach them, as policymakers intended. Even Jacobian Magazine, a principal voice of the American left and socialism admits: “Alinsky-style organizations have been increasingly unable to secure substantive victories” (since the 1960s).  Educators should take a more active role in developing political support of public education, but if the past is in any indicator, Alinsky style tactics will no longer work — something teacher union leaders need to understand and many teachers and others already understands.


JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Beauty in Broken Places

CBS news reported that Memphis has one of the worst unemployment rates for any major American city. The 2015 report also points out Memphis has a shrinking tax base, urban blight and a high violent crime rate, which has created the economic problems in Memphis. CBS listed Memphis as the fourth poorest city in America. This is not the recognition Tennessee wants for our communities and municipalities.
However, rather than simply focusing on the negative we have to look for the talents, skills, ideas, and creativity of our citizens in places of such despair. It is there in Memphis in abundance, just as it is found across our entire state. We just do not hear about the ingenuity or success of our entrepreneurial spirt or see it highlighted like we should. In the state where the greatest civil rights warrior in American history, Martin Luther King Jr., was murdered for his beliefs, we should never surrender to despair.
Make no mistake, our educators face unbelievable challenges across the state, especially with low-social economic students. We take all students. This includes students who have a lack of preparation, limited vocabulary, poor nutrition, lack of medical care, high mobility, dysfunctional families, lack of English, and lack of enrichment. This does not even factor in mental, physical and health challenges. That is not an excuse, nor should we accept diminished expectations because of race or economic conditions. The idiom “soft bigotry of low expectations” is still alive and well in some circles, but we must reject it once and for all. As Danielle Belton, Editor-in-Chief of The Root said, “If you go into the game expecting to lose, you are most certain to find failure.”
In Memphis, there is hope being realized in the Shelby County Schools Innovation Zone (iZone). In Chattanooga, Hamilton County is launching a similar vehicle to address the challenge of chronically under-performing schools. Leaders are working together to design different schedules, as well as oversight models, implementing creative content coaching, and empowering their principals with autonomy to be creative. They are hiring new teachers in hard to staff schools with better compensation. We are meeting children where they are.
In Memphis, the results are somewhat promising, in comparison to the state’s own Achievement School District. Test scores in the Shelby County Schools Innovation Zone have increased faster than other school improvement efforts. Some of the chronically under-performing schools have now moved off of the state’s Priority list. The model can be replicated, with the right leadership and support. We must enhance and sustain student engagement and transform school culture. They are finding beauty in broken places in Memphis.
Test scores are not the most important measure in our schools. It is the intangible factor of the human will to succeed despite obstacles. As Hanna Skandera, former Commissioner of Education of New Mexico wrote: “we cannot ignore the need for our system to be agile and adaptable, and proactively develop new ways to prepare the next generation in an ever-changing world.” This means that as educators we must build a system that gives students the educational foundation to succeed, despite whatever dire circumstances our students may come out of personally. Martin Luther King Jr reminded us, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” Let’s strive to educate all of our kids to their highest potential, no matter where they live.

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

School Safety and Security Town Hall


A School Safety and Security Town Hall open to the public will be held Monday at East Hamilton Middle High School to continue a day focused on school safety in Hamilton County.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond and Professional Educators of Tennessee are partnering to stage the Town Hall, which will take place 4 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 16, at the school complex in Ooltewah.

In addition to Sheriff Hammond, Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy, Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson, National School Security Expert Michael Yorio, and Dr. J.C. Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, will serve as panelists. Businessman and radio host Weston Wamp will facilitate the Town Hall.

“The Town Hall will give parents, teachers and other stakeholders in public education the chance to offer their views on school safety,” said Sheriff Hammond. “Also, we will be able to share information about the Monday morning discussion with elected and community leaders.”

Dr. Bowman said teachers from counties surrounding Hamilton County will be informed of the timely event. He will also discuss research on school safety which the Professional Educators of Tennessee has completed with its membership.

“We are grateful to join with Sheriff Hammond and other strong leaders in Hamilton County to have timely, orderly discussion about an issue front and center in Hamilton County, the state and the nation,” said Dr. Bowman. “This is a wonderful opportunity for teachers, including our members in Southeast Tennessee.”

Yorio serves as president of SSI Guardian, LLC, and is senior vice president of security for School Specialty, Inc. As he will do in the morning meeting with area leaders, Yorio will bring a national perspective on school safety.

Wamp said the event will be recorded and made available to Professional Educators of Tennessee’s 8,000 members and others. Wamp, a Chattanooga businessman, will facilitate the forum. After brief opening remarks, questions will begin. Partisan, political speech will be stopped from stage, and Wamp urges attendees attending to have prepared, concise questions. Questions will end promptly at 5:30. The theater at East Hamilton has an estimated seating capacity of 300.

About Sheriff Jim Hammond: Sheriff Jim Hammond is the current Sheriff of Hamilton County and has been since August of 2008. His Sheriff’s office personnel consist of 386 full-time and 33 part-time employees. His area of coverage is Hamilton County, which is the fourth largest county in the state of Tennessee. As a Constitutional Elected Official of the State of Tennessee, Sheriff Hammond brings over 54 years of law enforcement experience to his credit, including 15 Years as Chief Deputy. He is also a veteran of the US Navy, an international police instructor, and former adjunct instructor for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

About Professional Educators of Tennessee: Professional Educators of Tennessee is a non-partisan statewide professional association whose members come from all aspects of the educational systems in Tennessee. Their 8,000 statewide members include teachers, administrators and non-certified staff from kindergarten to graduate school level, public and private.

About Michael Yorio and SSI Guardian: National School Security Expert Michael A. Yorio is a former defense industry executive who is credited with founding SSI Guardian, the nation’s leading school safety and security firm and wholly owned subsidiary of School Specialty Inc. He has led the 21st Century Safe School initiative addressing institutional safety from an evidence based best practice approach focusing on the social, emotional, mental and physical factors.

About Weston Wamp: Weston Wamp has worked to promote best-practice guidelines for school safety across the country for two years, and he is currently involved in an effort of a national, non-profit organization that will address gaps in modernizing security in 21st century classrooms. He has hosted “The Pitch” on ESPN Chattanooga (105.1 FM) each Saturday morning for the past two years.

East Hamilton Middle High School is a public high school located in Ooltewah, Tennessee. Established and opened in 2009, it is one of the newest schools in the Hamilton County School district.

Address: 2015 Ooltewah Ringgold Rd, Ooltewah, TN 37363
PrincipalGail Chuy


JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. To schedule an interview please contact Audrey Shores, Director of Communications, at 1-800-471-4867 ext.102.

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