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Question of new hire pay highlights Education Committee meeting

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR STAFF
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
The Carter County Education Committee conducted its regularly scheduled meeting as part of the trifecta of the Highway and Landfill Committee meetings on Monday evening at the Carter County Courthouse.

Dr. Tracy McAbee gave a director’s report to the committee sharing that the plan was to still start school with masks being optional as he didn’t know of any other districts currently that have a mask mandate in place.

The director also shared that currently, 38 students have signed up to go to Northeast State as part of the Middle College Summit project for Carter County students which is on the threshold of the 10 percent that was being targeted to do so.

These students will get to go to Northeast State free of charge thanks to a grant obtained by the school system and they will have two years of Tennessee Promise money left to go somewhere else if they wish after graduation.

Also, according to Dr. McAbee, TCAT liaison Mark Norman advised the school director that a lot of feedback has been received in regard to the welding program as the school has a couple of options on how to service those students while the centralized CTE project is ongoing.

Dr. McAbee said that half of the students would be attending welding at Hampton and half at Happy Valley so the school system can get the program rolling.

Commissioner Nancy Brown asked Dr. McAbee if transportation was going to be provided for those students attending Northeast State.

“We are. I have been talking with Wayne Sams and Wayne is wonderful,” Dr. McAbee stated. “I have put in a grant to go ahead and buy the bus and all of a sudden it’s like it is almost impossible to get anything. I don’t know what the deal is but everything is on hold. He has some transportation that he is going to help us with.”

Brown responded by saying, “I have talked to several parents who were concerned since some of their kids have just gotten their driver’s license and are afraid for them to come off the mountain so thank you.”

A simple question from Commissioner Mark Blevins soon gave way to a spirited discussion about new hires in the county.

Blevins initially asked Dr. McAbee about the incentive that were given to people to retire and asked how many had taken advantage.

Dr. McAbee responded that when he first arrived that Dr. Kevin Ward had said that 31 or 32 had taken advantage of the incentives but since there have been only about seven to eight who have done so.

Blevins then questioned Dr. McAbee as to how many positions had been filled since then since the bonus was given to save the county money and there were a bunch more people hired this year.

“So through our school budget not very many,” Dr. McAbee responded. “We have hired several people through the ESSER money.”

“Okay, so the ESSER money what are you going to do next year when it is not here,” Blevins responded back.

“We get it for three years so in three years those people know when the money is not here they are gone,” stated McAbee.

“Now correct me if I am wrong,” Blevins said. “I understand some of them that you have hired are making $70,000 and one of them is making $81,000.”

Dr. McAbee answered by saying, “Out of our ESSER money? I don’t know who you are talking about but whatever our payscale is that is what they are making.”

At that point, Mr. Blevins made it a personal question to the director when he inquired about his wife and her position.

“How much did you give your wife when you hired her in?” questioned Blevins.

“Whatever the pay scale was,” came Dr. McAbee’s reply.

“$81,000,” Blevins quickly responded.

Dr. McAbee shared that his wife was not making $81,000 and Blevins countered by offering that was what was on the record. To that, Dr. McAbee then told Mr. Blevins that someone had told him wrong.

“If you hire people, and we bring them in and we hire them and are paying them more than what the teachers are making in Carter County, I just don’t think that is right,” Blevins stated.

“I agree with you but that is not what is happening,” Dr. McAbee shared.

Blevins finished by saying that he would pull the records and bring them to the next meeting to which Dr. McAbee respectively responded, “All right.”

Blevins told Dr. McAbee that he didn’t have anything against him he has just always tried to stand up for the teachers since being elected.

In other education committee matters, resident John Lewis approached the board about getting answers why one of the small school buses that ran from Valley Forge to Hampton couldn’t pick up his granddaughter and take her to preschool at Hampton.

He stated that no one has given him a clear answer other than one had to be on welfare to be able to ride the bus.

Committee member Gary Bailey attempted to explain to Lewis that Federal law prohibits anyone from riding the smaller buses unless they are on welfare or a special needs student.

Bailey told Lewis that Dr. McAbee was not familiar with the issue but that he had been working to get a copy of the law proving what he told Lewis was correct.

Lewis responded that as a tax-paying citizen of Carter County that he paid for the bus, the bus driver, the schools, and the teacher’s salary and he thought that his granddaughter was being discriminated against because she wasn’t on welfare.

The issue was debated back and forth several minutes before Dr. McAbee calmly reassured Mr. Lewis that he would have an answer for him in regard to the matter and asked Mr. Lewis to come by his office to resolve the issue.