Hamilton County District 4 school board member Tiffanie Robinson has issued an apology to teachers for her quoted comments in a recent newspaper story.  Robinson was referring to the early retirement incentive that she and other board members approved Thursday.  In an interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Robinson said, ""Many new CEOs or superintendents come up with ways to sort of weed out some of the older, more expensive and possibly less effective employees who don't align with their vision."

Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson contradicted Robinson's comments during the board meeting, and during a Friday interview with WRCB. He said, "I look at it this way. I'm going to be 65 someday, and I want to treat people like I will want to be treated when I retire.  We would never implement anything that would put our most talented and seasoned servants out of the school system.  It's simply a strategy to better align our budget with what the community wants."

Monday morning, Robinson emailed this statement to Hamilton County Department of Education employees.

Dear Hamilton County Education Family: 

I would like to extend to you my apology for the article that appeared in the Times Free Press concerning the retirement incentive.  The article left me mortified and extremely upset.  I am sure many of you were as well, and I can understand.  I was distraught because the comments attributed to me in the story do not reflect my true feelings about our veteran staff members.   

The reporter and I discussed the concepts that appeared in the paper, but my thoughts centered on the public possibly thinking we were putting the incentive in place for those reasons.  I do not personally feel that way about our veteran educators.  When talking with the media, sometimes ideas and discussions become intertwined, and the responsibility is mine to make sure I relay my thoughts precisely.  I take full responsibility for not distinguishing my concerns for what others in the community may think from my feelings regarding the incentive, and for not making my position clear in the interview.

Please know that I value each educator in our school system family for the contributions you make each day in the lives of our children. You dedicate your time, and on many occasions spend your own money, because you understand the impact you have on the future of the children in our schools.  I have a special respect for our educators who have continued this commitment for 15, 20, and 25 years or more.  I know you have accepted this calling because you understand what you do has a much higher purpose.  I thank each of you for your service! 

In my view, the retirement incentive is a small gesture by the system and the board to thank you for your years of service.  For those who can take advantage of this incentive, I would love to keep you in our education family and would welcome your decision to continue working with our children.  However, I understand that we also experience transitions in life and there may be a need to focus on family, health or other concerns.  If you find yourself in one of those transitions times, I hope this retirement incentive will help you plan for the future.  You have earned this opportunity. 

I pledge my support for all dedicated educators from first-year teachers, mid-career bus drivers, school nutrition workers, veteran teachers, and administrators who are providing a spark that will ignite a passion for learning in a child that will last a lifetime.

Thank you for what you do each day in our schools.  

Tiffanie Robinson
School Board District 4


Hamilton County school board members approved, by a 7-1 vote, an early retirement incentive that will enable eligible employees to retire this year. School officials say it will be a short-term windfall for teachers, administrators, and staff members, with long-term savings for the school system.

Several principals, including Rick Rushworth of Lookout Valley High School, have already informed their teachers that they plan to retire this year.  Some central office administrators are also eligible to retire with full benefits.  he early incentive would reportedly be available for teachers and classified employees, as well.

District 1 board representative Rhonda Thurman opposed the plan.  She says she is puzzled by the incentive, “because we don’t have enough qualified people to replace a wave of retirees.” She is concerned about vacancies in principals’ offices.  “We haven’t trained enough people to be good principals,” she said.

Hamilton County’s school system has not offered an early retirement incentive since 2009. The 2018 plan includes these provisions:. 

  • 25 years of service and above - one-time incentive of 25 percent of annual salary
  • 20 to 24 years of service - one-time incentive of 20 percent of annual salary
  • 10+ years of service and age 65  - one-time bonus of 15 percent of annual salary

Hundreds of the school system's employees will be eligible to retire with the early incentive plan. The deadline to announce their intention to retire has already been extended from February 1st to March 15th.