Outsourcing some 600 Metro school custodial positions, axing 24 workers from the district’s central office and reducing the number of hours clocked by bus drivers are cuts Director of Schools Jesse Register has recommended to meet a historically tight budget.
Calling the plan “a very solid budget recommendation” given the circumstances, Register unveiled Friday what would be a $633.3 million budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, a proposal he said protects teachers and prioritizes classroom instruction.
“It’s not an easy year,” Register said. “It’s not an easy budget recommendation, but I think Metro Nashville Public Schools and Nashville can fare very well with the proposal that we made.”
Altogether, the proposal would cut $10.9 million, eliminating a total of 665 jobs in Metro Nashville Public Schools, the bulk coming from custodial, landscaping and grounds sectors. Register’s plan is to hire an outside company to carry out these functions, with current Metro school workers prioritized over others to retain their positions. The goal, he stressed, was to avoid replicating last year when the district cut 150 teachers.
The budget, which would still require additional funding from Metro Council, calls for an increase of $12.6 million over current operations. The district’s shortfall for the next fiscal year is down to $35 million from the $38 million administrators temporarily feared.
At the school board’s budget and finance meeting Friday, board members were told to digest the numbers before discussions pick back up at Tuesday’s board meeting. The board is likely to vote on the budget March 23, before sending it to Mayor Karl Dean and the council.
Under Register’s plan, Metro school bus drivers would work 193 days per year instead of 199 by clocking in a seven-hour workday instead of an eight-hour schedule. Register called changes to the district’s transportation plan a “sound business practice,” one he said several school systems follow. Adjustments would net $2.5 million in savings.
“The transportation cuts are pretty tough, but in an economic time like this, we are paying for eight hours a day in driving time when actual work time for bus drivers is less than seven hours a day,” Register said. “So, we think it’s only fair to tighten up there.”
As for the proposed layoffs in the central office, Register said he went “line-item by line-item,” asking every department head to evaluate staffing allotments. He said the 24 cuts are “across the board” and address all areas within the central office, which should produce $1.5 million in savings.
But it’s custodians who could take the biggest punch from the cuts. By outsourcing to an outside company, Register said the district should save $5.1 million, pointing out the tactic is already employed by the rest of Metro Government because it frees the city from paying retirement benefits. Though the method would call for hundreds of layoffs, Register said the custodial staff the district hires would be larger in number.
“By outsourcing custodial, we think we’ll actually be able to increase the number of positions in our district, which would be good for us,” Register said. “We want to give priority to the employees we have who will be laid off. So, we think there is a very good opportunity for them to work back with the schools.”
Despite the reductions, Register’s budget would also invest in some new programs; one being a new virtual school to offer students lessons in credit recovery, as well as a transition program for incarcerated youth to re-enter public schools.
To meet a growing demand for more education choices, Register said he also has plans to expand the district’s academies at Old Cockrill and Opry Mills, and the district’s Middle College High School.
A public hearing on the budget will precede a special meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday, March 11 at the school system’s central office on Bransford Avenue.