Johnson City Schools ranks near the top in per capita state and local sales tax collections, as well as teacher salaries, but it also is at or near the top when it comes to student performance, according to the 2010-11 Tennessee Education Association statewide rankings of 136 school systems.
If you are a salaried teacher and stay with the school system for 30 years, your potential earnings are more than $1.6 million. That’s about $300,000 more than the state average. The school system’s superintendent, who makes about $146,000 a year, earns well over the state average. And, the average salary of classroom teachers ranks 7th at $52,044.
In all 15 categories of teacher salaries, from the minimum, which requires a bachelor’s degree and pays $36,510, to the maximum for a tenured teacher with a doctorate degree which pays $68,069, Johnson City Schools ranks no lower than 10th. Six teacher salary categories were in the top five. This includes instructional personnel and licensed educators.
“That really says a lot about our school board wanting to recruit and retain the very best teachers possible,” said Joe Crabtree, Johnson City Education Association president. “The pay helps get the teachers here. But in my opinion, it’s the system as a whole that makes them the best. The bar is extremely high here.”
Since the 2004-05 school year, Tennessee’s average classroom teacher salaries have increased by nearly 9.1 percent, principals’ by about 10.5 percent and the average superintendent’s salary increased 15.3 percent, according to the TEA report.
But the numbers also reveal that local teachers and administrators appear to be making a difference.
Johnson City Schools’ students in grades K-8, and 9-12, ranked No. 1 in the percent of students tested for math scoring “advanced” and “proficient and advanced” in the 2009-10 school year. These scores bested the state average by wide margins.
The criterion-referenced scores for math, reading/language, science and social studies, in grades 3-8 on the TCAP continually rank some of the highest in the state. The ACT composite score, and the three-year average, is 22.6 — 4th highest in the state.
“Some critics may gawk at a score of 22.6, but Tennessee is one of the few states that requires all high school students take the ACT whereas other states only test those on the collegiate track,” Crabtree said. “As I looked through the profile rankings, I was amazed at just how well our school system ranks when compared to all other systems in the state. We may be number one is some categories, but we don’t settle. We’re continually looking for ways to improve.”
The school system had a very low “cohort” dropout rate at 2.5 percent, compared to the state rate of 11.7 percent. A cohort dropout rate calculates the percentage of an entering ninth-grade class which has dropped out by the end of grade 12.
The system’s “event” dropout rate was 0.8 percent, compared to the state rate of 2.7 percent. Tennessee’s event dropout rate is the percentage of the school population which drops out during a calendar year.
“That low dropout rate can be credited to everyone involved,” Crabtree said. “But parent involvement has been a crucial piece in our success.”
Meanwhile, the per pupil expenditure of $9,059 ranks 27th, well above the state average. That amount is below Greeneville, Kingsport, Johnson County and Elizabethton, yet Johnson City Schools consistently ranks higher in student performance.
State Basic Education Program funding per pupil ranked near the bottom at 130. The BEP funding formula, which has been around since 1992, is used to equalize local funding. The greater the county wealth, the lower the amount of state dollars allocated to the school system. When the capacity to fund locally is low, it results in increased state allocations.
That’s why, in this case, per-pupil spending by local government ranked 11th, meaning that state funding accounted for $3,342 and local funding from Johnson City and Washington County added $5,715. The average per pupil funding by the state for the 2010-11 school year was $3,939, up slightly from the previous year.