The Shelby County Schools board unanimously passed a budget Tuesday night that slashed more than $240 million in spending and 4,563 positions from the district. The cuts impact virtually every department in the district including world language programs, teacher pay, transportation and alternative schools.
The 2014-15 budget cuts are largely due to the loss of thousands of teachers and students to the six new municipal school districts, the state-operated Achievement School District and the growing charter school sector.
Under the proposal, the district will spend $946 million next year to educate its students, far less than the $1.1 billion it spent this year.
The 2014-15 budget will now be reviewed by the Shelby County Commission on May 7. The budget will return to the SCS board for final approval on June 2. The budget must be received by the state’s department of education by Aug. 1.
Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II said his focus will be on strengthening literacy rates and investing in pre-kindergarten. The district was eliminating more than 40 pre-k classes, now it is restoring 26 of those classes using leftover Race to the Top funds.
“We’ve truly done everything we can to be strategic,” Hopson said. “I wish I could pay teachers a couple hundred thousand a year and keep world languages, but that’s not our reality.”
Administrators have not decided how much individual teacher pay will be cut or whether they will get raises. Teacher advocates have pointed out that the district is spending 22 percent less on teacher pay and 23 percent less on benefits next year. That compares to a 19 percent overall drop in budget cuts.
Initially, the district planned on using the state-promised 2 percent cost of living increase to fund a differentiated pay schedule. Gov. Bill Haslam cut the state employee cost of living increase from the budget this month. The district was counting on more than $9 million from the state. Without it, the district is left with $6.2 million.
While the district’s proposed contribution to employee insurance benefits is higher than the current 63 percent, it is still lower than the 70 percent that the district contributed in prior years, advocates argue.
While many areas in the budget faced cuts, the district’s spending on charter schools is projected to grow from $67 million to $78 million – a 15 percent increase. The number of charter schools in the district is slated to continue to expand in coming years.
The new budget also trims 6 percent of the district’s spending on student transportation by outsourcing all bus drivers.
Though it was not discussed at the meeting, the district is also revisiting the structure of its alternative schools and cutting some $2 million in spending on those programs.
Several items protested by community members during last month’s budget forums did not change in the proposed 2014-15 budget including keeping the current school start times, which would mean operating a two bell start system, cutting world language classes in some elementary and middle schools and eliminating the driver’s education program.
Twenty-eight teachers will be impacted by the cuts to the world language classes in some elementary and middle schools. There had been a big push among parents, teachers and students to prevent the cuts. The push even involved the American Council on the Teaching Foreign Languages.
Chairman Kevin Woods assured the community that he would still be an advocate for issues brought up during the open budget forums.
“I’m still going to push for later start times in the future,” Woods said.
SCS 2014-15 budget is now available online. Follow this link ckbe.at/1i7nv4z to review the changes.