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Memphis school staff to receive 1% salary increase after district saved money from online classes

Teachers talk about an online class from across the room to social distance
The raises apply to all full-time and part-time employees, regardless of performance.
Laura Faith Kebede / Chalkbeat

All Shelby County Schools staff will receive a 1% salary increase after months of district leaders saying there was no money for raises.

The district identified $7.6 million in savings from switching to all virtual instruction since August to make the increases happen. They apply to all full-time and part-time employees, regardless of performance.

“Even in the midst of an unforeseen and unprecedented crisis, the example we have all set leading and succeeding through the moment is truly commendable,” Superintendent Joris Ray said in an email to staff on Tuesday.

Superintendent Joris Ray sits at a conference table alone in front of a laptop.
Superintendent Joris Ray talks to county commissioners over videoconference about the 2020-21 budget in May.
Shelby County Schools

The announcement comes as the district has sought to conclude negotiations with its two teacher associations over salaries and benefits with few changes to their agreement. It also comes as school staff have faced historic disruptions to education because of the pandemic and asked for more pay as a result.

The raises will range from $541 to $1,573 depending on an employee’s salary and benefits. The increases are retroactive to Aug. 24 when most staff returned for the 2020-21 academic year.

Tuesday’s announcement also includes two pay periods when the district will cover employees’ insurance premiums. One will happen in November, the other in December, Ray said.

Ray gave licensed staff a 3% raise and high-performing teachers a bonus in 2019, but a subsequent pay increase has been elusive until now.

Before the pandemic, Gov. Bill Lee included a raise for teachers in his budget. It was eventually eliminated as the economic downturn led legislators to pass a bare bones budget. District leaders said then that they would not be able to make up for the state’s reduction.

Ray also asked county leaders for a $2,000 “hero bonus” for staff in August, but the proposal went nowhere. That bonus would have cost about $30 million, according to the district’s estimate.

The district’s two teacher associations, Memphis-Shelby County Education Association and United Education Association of Shelby County, have pushed for raises and a new salary schedule based on years of experience and levels of higher education.

In September, the district leaders presented their final offer to the associations, saying they would review teacher salaries next year. Association leaders said the contract language was too vague and didn’t guarantee the district would reopen negotiations. The groups have been meeting for nearly two years to create a new agreement on issues such as working conditions and pay. A final draft is expected soon.

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