Mayor Jim Coppinger presented his proposed budget for Hamilton County for 2020 today, including a 34-cent property tax increase to help fund public education.

According to a 2018-2019 Salary Schedule Report, Hamilton County ranks 29th for starting teacher salaries in Tennessee. The average starting salary for a Hamilton County teacher is $39,592.

Erin Harrell, who works in talent acquisition for the Hamilton County Department of Education, says that if the district wants to be competitive, that number needs to rise.

"As a teacher considers, 'do I need to go to Georgia, am I going to live in Cleveland,' if they're going to live here in Hamilton county they need a salary that matches the cost of living. So we need to be competitive with the surrounding areas and currently we are falling below," Harrell said.

In other metropolitan districts, like Cleveland and Maryville, starting teacher salaries are as much as $2,000 more per year. Hamilton County teacher Teri Rankin says that's led many fellow teachers to leave the district.

"I have seen teachers that have more tenure and more experience going to neighboring counties because the pay increase is so tremendous," Rankin said.

Penny Murray, who also works for the Department of Education, says educators are hopeful that the proposed budget will lead to pay increases for teachers as well as more funding for councilors, behavioral support and supplies.

"We are hopeful and our teachers are hopeful. It will also increase our talent pipeline for new teachers coming into Hamilton County Schools, and hopefully help us retain those amazing teachers we already have," Murray said.

Rankin agrees, and she says now she's hoping the county commission will vote to put the changes in place.

"I am so glad we have leadership that values education. The children of Hamilton county are going to be our doctors and lawyers and teachers an council members. And I hope our council members are on the same page," she said.

The county is expected to vote on the final budget on June 26th.

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