For At-large Councilman Jerry Maynard, it’s sad enough Metro school budget cuts will likely outsource custodians and reduce wages for bus drivers, some of the district’s lowest-paid employees.
But making the matter even more frustrating, he said, is that a new student rezoning plan, implemented this school year, requires $5.5 million in annual funds, money he contends could have been used to protect janitorial jobs and preserve the hours of bus drivers.
“If we did not have that rezoning plan, which now segregates poor students and puts high concentrations of poor students into schools, then you now have additional resources,” Maynard, who opposed the plan from the outset, told The City Paper.
“That money could have been used so that we would not have to lay off custodians, so we would not have to cut hours for bus drivers,” he said.
Approved by a 5-4 vote in the summer of 2008 — prior to the arrival of Director of Schools Jesse Register — the hotly debated rezoning plan was billed by supporters as a way to promote “neighborhood schools” by allowing students to attend schools closer to their homes. It went into effect during the current 2009-2010 school year.
The most dramatic changes were felt in the Hillwood and Pearl-Cohn clusters. For years, children living in the MetroCenter area, mostly African-American students, had been bused across town to attend Hillwood High School, situated in the more affluent West Meade area. Under the new plan, those students are now zoned for Pearl-Cohn, though they still have the choice to attend Hillwood, and many are doing so.
To compensate for the achievement gap historically found between the two clusters, the board agreed to pump an extra $5.5 million in resources into the Pearl-Cohn cluster on a yearly basis.
The proposed MNPS budget for the next fiscal year, meanwhile, would outsource some 600 custodial positions, reduce the hours of bus drivers and lay off 24 central office employees. Cuts would net $10.9 million in total savings.
“Look at the line items of the budget,” Maynard said. “By laying off the custodians you would save $5.1 million. Turn the page, and on the same budget, these additional resources for the rezoning plan are $5.5 million. If the school board had not passed this rezoning plan then we would not have to lay off those custodians.”
Maynard said he intends to express these thoughts to Register and the school board when they come before the council’s Budget and Finance Committee during budget hearings.
“It’s a misguided policy that now has its economic ramifications that nobody wants to talk about,” Maynard said of the new student assignment plan.