Recent discussions of a wheel tax, part of which might be applied to teacher salaries, have referred to Bedford County having lower teacher salaries than its neighbors, making it harder to attract or keep good teachers.
Figures obtained from the Tennessee Education Association website confirm that Bedford County is lower than many of its neighbors in teacher salaries, although not dead last, as some have claimed.
A wheel tax study committee last week recommended that a $30 wheel tax be pursued, with $20 going to teacher salaries and $10 to highways. That is only a recommendation, and it's not even clear whether the school system would agree to it.
Some officials, both inside and outside the school system, have also discussed the need for salary improvements for so-called "classified" employees -- school system employees who are not certified teachers, such as cafeteria or maintenance workers.
The study committee was also working from the assumption that there were 50,000 taxable vehicles in the county after eliminating tax-exempt vehicles such as official government vehicles, vehicles registered by disabled veterans or former prisoners of war.
However, County Clerk Kathy Prater, responding to a question from county commissioner J.D. "Bo" Wilson, told county commissioners on Tuesday night that there were only about 42,000 taxable vehicles. That substantially changes the amount that would be raised by the proposed tax.
Wilson handed out printouts at Tuesday's county commission meeting based on 2010-2011 teacher, principal and superintendent salary figures from the TEA website. But the site now has 2011-2012 figures posted, and those newer figures are what the Times-Gazette used for this story and the accompanying tables.
Bedford County's average classroom teacher salary for 2011-2012 was $42,330, well below the state average of $47,082, and less than the salaries offered by the Manchester, Tullahoma, Rutherford County, Maury County, Fayetteville, Marshall County, Franklin County, Coffee County, Wilson County or Lincoln County school systems. Bedford County did outpay Moore, Giles and Cannon counties.
A salary-only comparison, of course, does not take into account insurance, benefits, cost of living or other factors.
Bedford County also pays principals less than its neighbors and less than the state average. The average Bedford County principal makes $67,484, while the state average is $78,514.
School Superintendent Ray Butrum makes more than the state average salary in 2011-2012, although there's a wider variance in superintendent salaries, perhaps due to the wide variance in size among school districts. The table shows the salaries for nearby school systems but also shows how many students are in each system, also obtained from the TEA website.