Dean wants to fully fund Metro schools, gives no guarantees

Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 8:36pm

Mayor Karl Dean said Thursday he will do his “best” to fully fund Metro schools to the tune of a $42 million to $45 million budget increase over the current fiscal year, a hike requested to sufficiently serve a rapidly growing school district.

“Education will remain our top priority, and we’ll do everything we can to fund it to the best possible way we can,” Dean said. “But what that exact number is, I can’t say now.”

That’s the message the mayor delivered following Thursday’s budget hearing with Director of Schools Jesse Register and the school board, which has already approved a $670.5 million budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year. Register and the board are hoping Dean can find room for the 6-percent-plus budget increase in Metro’s overall budget for the next fiscal year, to be unveiled later this spring to the Metro Council.

“My goal is to do everything I can for schools, but I’m operating in a framework of a tight budget,” Dean said.

Dean’s remarks were strikingly different from those he made at last year’s schools budget hearing when he vowed he could fully fund the district’s requested funding increase then.

This year, Metro Schools has found itself is a precarious situation because of more than $30 million in lost federal stimulus and jobs money. In addition, the district is bracing for an increase of approximately 2,000 students, which should soon raise its student body to 80,000, the largest it’s been in decades.

“Given those factors, we have really tried to be very responsible,” Register said.

The school board last week approved a budget that amounted to a $37 million increase over the current fiscal year. But Gov. Bill Halsam has now proposed a 1.6 percent salary increase for teachers, which could bump the final request between $5 million and $8 million.

Register said Haslam’s pay increase plan “surprised us.”

Losing stimulus dollars is a reality the district knew was coming, and one Metro can’t control. Combined with vanishing federal job funds, more than 200 teaching positions could be lost. This decrease factors in a 129-teacher addition in the local budget. Instructional coaches –– whom Register credits with producing gains –– are among those hardest hit.

“In this budget, we really cut a number of teaching positions in our school system,” Register said. “We’ve tightened the belt significantly.”

An added $6 million expenditure, school officials say, has arisen from the increase in the number of charter schools, with five new publicly funded, privately operated schools opening next school year in Metro. That means another 736 students will be attending charter schools.

According to Chris Henson, the school district’s finance director, students who leave traditional schools for charter schools don’t offset the staff level required at their former schools. “The per-pupil calculation follows the student to the [charter] school,” Henson has said.

The district has asked for $1.7 million to employ elementary school principals and bookkeepers year-round. Currently, they work between 10 and 11 months per year. Register has said the current elementary-principal arrangement is outdated compared to those of other school systems.  

Filed under: City News

6 Comments on this post:

By: richgoose on 4/1/11 at 7:28

The Davidson County school system reminds me of two things. The first being a form of what a contemporary reform school should look like. The second being a country club for children of the underclass.

By: Community-carl-... on 4/1/11 at 7:56

Now matter how much money Nashville pours into its failing public school system, MNPS administrators will never consider it enough. Until a major housecleaning of the overpaid, overstaffed top levels of entrenched administrators are weeded out, performance will continue to be lackluster. It doesn't matter how many letters/degrees are after a person's name if they suffer from a lack of good old fashioned common sense. After working with those people for 20 years, my opinion is set in stone.

By: JeffF on 4/1/11 at 10:27

I am curious, at what point did Dean realize the Metro budget was "tight"?

Second question, when did Dean pull the about face and make education is "top priority"? I think we all realize that priority #1 for a majority of this term was preventing tourism taxes from going anywhere other than brand spanking new convention facilities (just like 3 dozen other cities with a "brand").

It is not too much of a reach that now that he has tied up 30 years worth of revenue for a pet project, that he now has the actual government required services in a position that they will be poster children for property tax increases. Be prepared for a lot of poor mouthing about revenue deficiencies without a lot of talk about the revenues he gave away to ex-frat boy meeting planners, poverty-wage hotel lords, and below minimum wage bar owners. A billion dollars could just as easily have been invested in Nashvillians as it was in tourists.

By: Community-carl-... on 4/1/11 at 1:43

Hey Jeff - Nice observation! I agree, Dean is a slickster.

By: govskeptic on 4/2/11 at 6:42

Dean is truly a slickster wiith a group of even more slight-of-handers
surrounding him as top advisers! One school program that
needs close scrutiny is the transportation portion of that
budget. Taxpayer funded Bus passes are handed out like candy
so as not to require any parent of any income any inconvenience
in getting child to school.
A 100% increase in school budget this year would not be enough
next year according to this group. But don't dare require any
accountability less you be called a uneducated fool.

By: modern4life on 4/2/11 at 10:44

Responding to the title, what would happen if Dean did not want to fully fund the school system?