Mayor Karl Dean said it’s doubtful his administration will fully fund the local school district’s budget, which is complete with a $44 million increase over the last year.
Wrapping up his final public budget hearing for the year by digging into the $764 million spending plan for Metro Nashville Public Schools, Dean told district officials Friday the “flood gates have not opened” in terms of revenue and hinted that this would be a difficult budget to assemble.
“I don’t know whether we’ll be able to do all they ask for. Certainly I remain totally committed to schools as being the most important work we’re doing now in the city. It’s key to our future, but we’ll just see how the analysis goes,” Dean told reporters after the budget hearing.
Will Pinkston, an MNPS school board member and budget committee chair, said he and district officials plan to comb through their proposal to see where the district can cut costs.
Director of Schools Jesse Register said the district’s budget is reasonable, but he would be willing to consider making some cuts.
“We have some real pressures on our budget, so we’ll have to look at ways that we can conserve,” he said. “I don’t want to say we’re going to cut this or we’re going to cut that until we come closer to finding out what the mayor and the council will be able to fund.”
Education makes up 42 percent of Metro’s yearly budget, followed by public safety which amounts to 22 percent of the budget.
Register said the district is stuck with certain “pressures” in the budget, such an expected 1,700-student bump in enrollment. Of new students, roughly 750 new students are expected in the district’s traditional schools and as many 1,000 in the district’s charter schools.
District officials have stressed concern for weeks over the financial cost of taking on more charter schools. Next year’s budget proposal includes almost $15 million new dollars to open five new charter schools and add additional grades to several others.
While Dean hinted the MNPS budget proposal is a little high, he said he’s fully behind funding the expansion of charter schools here.
“I think it’s definitely worth it. At what level and how you actually handle that in terms of the budget, those are things we can discuss and look at more carefully, and I’m sure we will in the coming months,” he said.
The budget proposal also includes a 1.5 percent salary increase to be distributed among district staff, and higher costs associated with employees benefits and inflation. The budget also includes program enhancements and takes on funding for programs now covered by the federal government.
The district will also discontinue its relationship with Tribal Consulting Group, a consulting firm the district hired with Race to the Top federal education funds to assess challenges within the district.
Tribal reported the district is too centralized, something Register said the district has begun turning around, although he called it a “work in progress.” Register added MNPS can move forward on the consultant’s suggestions without having the group on the payroll next year.
Dean was also interested in the performance of teachers brought into the district through alternative teaching programs like Teach for America. While TFA teachers generally are successful in the classroom, they are also likely to leave the district after a few years, Register said. To combat that trend, Register said he is using programs like the Leadership Institute to encourage those teachers to stay with the district.
A high school meant for students suffering from behavior disorders, such as those who are bipolar or schizophrenic, also perked the mayor’s interest. While he asked about what would happen to the students and teachers at the school planned to close for next school year, he inquired as to whether the district had enough resources to handle the special education population district wide.
Register said the district could always use more help but added the district is “holding our own.”