Dean fully behind charter expansion, doubtful MNPS will get full $44M budget increase

Friday, April 12, 2013 at 4:00pm

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.”


10 Comments on this post:

By: ancienthighway on 4/12/13 at 3:34

I understand that the "floodgates" may not be open yet and the city may still need to watch it's costs across the board. What I don't understand is how that translates into supporting the State's move to approve charters for the school district and force that additional cost onto the city. One would almost think that the Mayor is more interested in supporting the private education than improving the public. How Republican of him!

By: pswindle on 4/12/13 at 3:55

We had a so called property tax increase for the schools at lest that was what we were told. Dean wants more Charter Schools, he has a relative leading the way for more of them. The more that the Charter Schools for profit take the MNPS ' money, the more that Metro will fall short. This is a prime example of the drain on the public schools by for profit .

By: Ask01 on 4/13/13 at 11:45

Am I alone in my suspicion that political figures are becoming less concerned about concealing their personal agendas?

To be sure, Mayor Dean is a lame duck, thankfully on his last tour at the helm of Metro, but a reasonable person would expect some restraint instead of going all out to thumb his nose at the public which blindly re-elected him.

Mayor Dean's declaration of support for education rings somewhat hollow considering his seeming disdain and contempt for our local school board.

I suppose, however, he is feathering his campaign nest in preparation to abandon the mess he made of Metro and seek higher office. Such ambitions would explain his supporting the state's move to force charter schools on Metro. He couldn't be a team player, after all, if he actively opposed his political masters at the state level.

Charter schools could be an attractive alternative, if properly managed and administrated. My problem is, if our current legislature endorses them, there must be a dark, slimy side that is hidden from us.

By: pswindle on 4/13/13 at 5:10

I bet Dean can find the money for the schools if they agree to all of the Charter Schools that Dean wants.

By: Ask01 on 4/15/13 at 3:59

I'm sure he would, pswindle.

Even if he had to invent another tax or 'fee' to cover the cost.

The Metro Council, except for a very few, won't object once he yanks their leash.

By: jcbradford on 4/15/13 at 8:04

Metro Schools should not need any more money to fund charters. The money follows the students. MNPS simply needs to cut its expenses to account for losing 4400 students to charter schools, just like any organization must do when it loses customers. Amazingly, no one is asking the obvious question of "What are you cutting?" My guess is that MNPS has not laid off a single teacher after losing 4400 students, and that is criminal negligence.

By: ohplease on 4/15/13 at 9:57

When a few children leave a school, the building still has to be heated, cooled, cleaned, maintained. Staff needs pretty much stay the same because it's not as if whole classes of children are exiting. Buses still have to run. Children with special needs still require and deserve special care; those children aren't going to charters. The costs don't go down for those expenses. Plus the school population is growing every year. And money is being diverted into facilities for charters. So please tell me, jcbradford, exactly what don't you get about the costs associated with charters? And could you please show me the results that prove that all charters are the way to go? Charters can be good, but even those who run the best of them say that they are not a magic bullet. A lot of research shows that some really work, as do many public schools; some don't, as is the case with some public schools. Can we please stop bashing public schools and the many wonderful, committed teachers in them, and understand that the latest "reform" is not always best?

By: firstworldproblems on 4/15/13 at 9:58

Is it, jcbradford?

What if all 4400 kids came from different grades, in different schools? Each school operates on its own budget. So, laying off a teacher because 1 or 2 students leave for a charter school is not going to happen.

Also, from everything I've heard, (and I'm a teacher), our projected enrollments are going up for next year, in spite of charter schools.

By: CoyoteCrawford on 4/15/13 at 11:22

You can't call Dean the "education mayor".

By: bfra on 4/16/13 at 9:20

Of course Dean is behind Charter Schools. His wife has kinfolk wanting to make a mint off of them & as she holds the purse strings, Dean does as she says.