NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Deirtra Bledsoe didn't go into teaching for the money. "I want to be a life changer," Bledsoe said.
She teaches second grade at Haywood Elementary and has taught in Metro Public Schools for 25 years. "I love making a difference. I love teaching," Bledsoe said.
But she's struggling to make ends meet. She, like many other teachers, has been forced to take on a second or even third job. Right now she's working as a tutor after school to make extra money. "I'm not asking for anything extravagant. Just a basic standard of living. It would be nice," Bledsoe said.
She showed us her past paychecks which reveal what has happened with teacher pay in Nashville over the years.
"Do I see any significant changes in my salary? And I'm going to, no, I'm not," Bledsoe said.
Her pay checks show between 2011 and 2017, her total pay, before deductions, went up just $41 per paycheck. As a veteran teacher she says Metro doesn't value her experience. Amanda Kail with the Metro Nashville Education Association says Metro's Salary Schedule is a major reason the district is struggling to hire teachers.
"This is one of the reasons we are having problems staffing schools right now," Kail said.
In fact, six weeks into the school year, the district still has about 150 classrooms without a permanent teacher.
"We want to see the salary schedule fixed," Kail said.
Every year a teacher stays with Metro they're supposed to move up a "step" on the salary schedule - which used to mean a small pay increase. But that changed during the recession.
Then in 2012, Metro increased pay for entry-level teachers by freezing step increases for teachers with more experience.
Now teachers, like Bledsoe, can go years at a time without any sort of step increase. In fact many teachers are bringing home less money now than they did in years past.
"We are being told over and over again, 'we're sorry, there just isn't any money to do this right now,'" Kail said.
It's hard to believe, but a Metro teacher with a Bachelor's Degree and 15 years experience is paid less today than a teacher in that same position back in 2012. As you can see in the chart above, in 2012-2013 teachers on Step 15 made just over $52,089. Today, seven years later, Step 15 is valued at $51,772.
"The value of that step has gone down. How does that happen?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.
Tony Majors, Chief Human Resources Officer with Metro responded, "Each year that we do not receive a step increase we have to add a year zero to the salary schedule." Majors blamed lack of funding. He and Chief Financial Officer Chris Henson said teachers who stay with the district won't see a pay cut, but admit experienced teachers have seen little or no extra money in their paychecks in recent years.
"The reality is in our current salary schedule, some positions don't grow," Majors said.
"My message to our teachers and employees is, we're very well aware of your concerns and we are working to address them," Major said.
Deirtra Bledsoe has more responsibilities than ever as a teacher. The price of everything has gone up, but her paycheck has not. "I think there's something significantly wrong. Because it doesn't make sense for me that steps go backward," Bledsoe said as she looked at Step 15.
"Those of us who are older, I can't afford to move. I can't even afford to buy a house," Bledsoe said. But more than that, she said she may not be able to afford the job she loves. That's why she wants the pay scale changed.
"I'm doing this for future teachers. I don't want them to be stuck in a system that's not working," Bledsoe said.
Metro Schools makes up about 40 percent of the city's overall budget. In 2005, MNPS had an annual operating budget of about $510 million dollars. By 2012, it had grown to about $674 million. This year, Metro Schools' budget was just over $914 million dollars. The district's budget has nearly doubled in the last 15 years, but teacher salaries have been stagnant.
As for teacher vacancies MNPS listed 145 vacant positions as of September 10. The district said because of substitutes waiting for the state to issue their license, the true vacancy rate is lower than that. The district says its vacancy rate is only .02% of its 5,200 teachers. Wednesday, the district said 16 additional teachers are in the process of being hired.
The district said the vacancies are a "concern" but "not a crisis."
Below is the entire salary schedule for MNPS dating back to 2005-06. It is best viewed on a desktop computer. You can also access the full spreadsheet here