Donna Speegle and Debbie Baker

From left: Walker County Association of Educators vice president Donna Speegle and Debbie “Deb” Baker, president of the association.

At the conclusion of the second of three required Walker County Board of Education meetings for a millage rate increase proposal, two school teachers from the system agreed to share their thoughts following the July 15 meeting, the millage rate proposed and the opposition raised by local residents.

Debbie “Deb” Baker, a property owner and tax-paying citizen of Walker County for 12 years, has also been an employee for the school system for the same amount of time and is the current president of the Walker County Association of Educators.

Donna Speegle, a tax-paying resident of the county for 20 years, has been with the school system in Walker for 23 years as an educator. Speegle is the current vice president of the Walker County Association of Educators, serving alongside Baker.

Speegle said that, “at the 5 p.m. meeting, where he (Walker County School Superintendent Raines) explained the budget and where the money was going; he did a really good job of explaining that.”

But, despite the good explanation, the vice president of the local association of educators says that “I think one of the problems that we have here in Walker County now is, unfortunately due to previous actions by former county commissioners, the people have been taxed (in order) to catch up and right the wrongs.”

Speegle added: “And, it’s just unfortunate that we are in a position now that when the governor came in with his $3,000 raise for teachers — it’s coming immediately after the taxes the Walker County commissioner had imposed for the previous year.”

“The pay rate for teachers is what he (the governor) ran on (his campaign promise made), which is necessary, because we are one of the lowest paid counties (for teacher salaries) in the state of Georgia,” according to Speegle.

“The local pay supplement is a very small supplement compared to other counties,” she said. “But, you can’t compare apples and oranges. You can’t compare LaFayette, Rossville, Chickamauga to metro Atlanta. But, we have to have an income and a salary that makes our county attractive to pull new people into it — and retain them.”

“One of the reasons that people are leaving Walker County is that they can get higher paying jobs in other counties around the state. And, that’s an issue,” the vice president of educators said.

Baker, the president of the local Association of Educators, did not think that teachers would, necessarily, quit and move away. Instead, she thought they might do something else, like maybe “go into Tennessee (to work) or even Alabama. They can live in their house (in Walker County) and still get another job in a surrounding county.”

Teachers potentially quitting or working in another county aside, Speegle felt one possible solution raised in the meeting for how to increase the budget and teacher salaries without raising property taxes had merit.

According to Speegle, “One of the other things that they talked about was, ‘Why can’t we just do a one percent sales tax increase? That would be a great thing. But that’s not something that would fix the 2019-2020 school budget now, and that’s the problem. We have to have something to fix it immediately.”

The educators were asked why they thought that the 2019-20 budget needs an influx of cash sooner rather than later?

Speegle said: “Well, because the governor put the $3,000 into our budget this year for the teacher raises.”

Baker added: “Because the expenditures we have this year is higher than we have the revenue for.”

Both are valid points even though there is a fund that the school board can draw out of to meet budget needs.

According to Speegle, she thinks everyone is “getting up in arms about the millage rate — and, it’s unfortunate. As a property owner in Walker County, I totally sympathize with people who are here and are on a fixed income,” she said. “But, it’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand you’re talking about the fact that I can’t do my job unless I have adequate materials and supplies for the classroom…you know. I need them to help me reach a student…to help a student who needs it. On the other hand, if I’m not happy with my job, because I’m worried about how I’m going to pay my bills and my mortgage, then...”

“Walker County has to have salaries that are competitive to the surrounding counties to get good quality teachers here in order to get our students adequately prepared to have a successful life after they graduate,” Speegle added.

Baker pointed out that some teachers are more “worried about furloughs.” And, she also said: “I think that with our current budget we do need to raise revenue in some form. Some people in there (the meeting) were saying we need to cut teacher’s salaries. That is not the answer.”

Speegle agreed: “That’s not going to fix it.”

Jan Morris is assistant editor for the Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga., and the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga.

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