JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — With the biggest one-year across the board raise in a long time set for Johnson City teachers and school employees, those at the bottom of the ladder stand to gain even more in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

“They were due a pay raise, and the board really wanted to support that,” Superintendent Steve Barnett said of the food service workers, custodians, secretaries, Educare workers and others who he said are critical to giving teachers the opportunity to do what they do best.

After a year that saw healthy sales tax revenues and a pay bump for teachers provided by the state, Barnett said everyone is getting a 5% across-the-board increase. But support staff in the five lowest paid “lanes” of pay will see their compensation increase by 7%.

“The school board’s finance committee made a great recommendation,” Barnett said. “We had been able to do some adjustments in lanes six and seven, so those lanes one through five of support staff, that was really important to be able to do that.”

The increase means the lowest-paid employees in the system, Educare workers, will start at $11.46 an hour, up from about $10.41 last year. They are the only staff in the “lane one” category. Lane three starting pay rose from about $13.38 an hour to $14.32. That category includes food service couriers, guards, print shop and copy clerks, secretaries and mentors, and it now tops out at $17.91 an hour after 25 years of experience.

The lane five category, which includes secondary cafeteria managers, administrative secretaries, educare assistant directors, head custodians and several other categories, now starts at $17.34 an hour (slightly over $36,000 a year full time), up from about $16.20.

Barnett said it was teachers who pushed for the increases for support staff.

“I’d heard from teachers that had said, ‘if we can get a raise for the classified staff it’d be really important,” he said. “I feel like there’s a lot of appreciation from teachers who really appreciate all the work that classified staff do to support what they do every day in the classroom.”

Barnett said the system’s leadership has always tried to keep support staff rates competitive compared to other area systems, but with inflation running high and those positions by no means lucrative, it was time to try and make an extra effort.

“We felt like being able to look at revenues coming in it was an opportunity to do a little more.”

Barnett said increasing base pay can also help retain workers and encourage them to stay employed for years and move up through the various pay scales of support staff jobs.

“Looking at the work that’s being done by custodial staff, or secretaries or bookkeepers, they’re given that opportunity to develop and grow and move from one lane to another into a job that has more responsibility, more expectations.”

After this year’s increase, an educare director with 10 years experience (a lane six position that got a 5% increase) now earns over $47,000 annually if they work a 12-month contract. A head custodian (lane five) with 15 years’ experience now earns more than $41,000 a year after the 7% increase.