Embry urges commission to increase teacher pay

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Outgoing School Superintendent Don Embry’s final statement to Bedford County commissioners Tuesday night was short and to the point: Teachers need higher pay.

“If there’s one thing that the commission needs to do, it’s take a look at increasing pay for teachers and staff,” Embry said.

Embry was making his last report to the commission before his retirement, set for Dec. 31.

All surrounding counties offer higher salaries and benefits and are outperforming Bedford County in attracting teachers, Embry said.

“We are running into more and more situations where we can’t find teachers,” Embry said, noting several openings exist and school officials are working with other area systems to find solutions. The system is also having trouble finding substitute teachers due to the COVID-19 virus, Embry said.

A total of 8,503 students were enrolled in the Bedford County school system as of Friday, Embry said. That figure is 270 less than last year. Embry attributed the loss largely to parents choosing to homeschool their children.

Currently 1,334 students are attending class virtually. Embry said. Approximately 300 students have returned to regular classrooms since the beginning of the school year. Embry expects that number to increase.

In response to a question by Commissioner Julie Wells Sanders about concerns expressed by some parents of virtual students whose normally-good grades have begun falling, Embry said he strongly prefers traditional classrooms.

“A large number of students would do much better if they were there in person,” Embry said. “Some of them are logging on, trying to play games on the computers, turning the camera off and walking away.

“Some parents need to attend the student-teacher conferences next week,” Embry said, implying they needed to hear directly from teachers about their children’s attitudes toward online learning.

Other students are taking virtual instruction seriously with varying degrees of success, the commission was told.

“Lots of students are struggling,” Embry said. “Help is available for those who are trying.”

Teachers are feeling the heat as well, according to Embry.

“Our teachers are stressed out right now, working double overtime,” Embry said.

“Education will never be the same (as a result of COVID-19). We’re starting a new normal,” Embry said. “We’re going to be seeing this from here on out.”

Embry said six COVID-19 cases were reported in the school system last week with approximately 110 students quarantined. He expects a “spike” in cases this week. An early-week sharp increase in local cases among all ages has been reported by the Tennessee Department of Health after losses for the past few weeks.

Adult staff members seem more susceptible to the virus than students, Embry said.

Zoning

A change to Bedford County’s zoning ordinance limiting changes that can be made to buildings in rural “villages” of Bedford County – and what types of buildings can be constructed – passed 14-0 at Tuesday’s meeting. Commissioner P.T. “Biff” Farrar, who represents the Flat Creek area and whose family has owned land there for generations, said “pass” when the vote was called. Commissioners Chasity Gunn and Bill Anderson were absent.

Two people with connections to Flat Creek, where residents are split over the proposed location of a new Dollar General Store, spoke at a public hearing before the commission meeting.

Jennifer Myers of Sunchaser Market, Highway 82 South in the center of Flat Creek and the only store for miles in any direction, told of the need for residents to have a convenient place to purchase grocery items and meals. Jackie Farrar, a Flat Creek resident who spoke against development of the area at a Bedford County Planning Commission meeting last week, said she supports small business but wants limitations on new construction that could harm existing and future businesses.

Commissioner Greg Vick, in the meeting itself, proposed amending the zoning change to grandfather in and exempt existing businesses. That modification is included in the zoning change approved Tuesday.