Steve Glover, chair of the Board of Education’s budget and finance committee, intends to make a motion next week that school district administrators plan for a 3 percent cut in expenditures — a change of such magnitude, he believes, that could not be accomplished without staff reductions.
“We are looking at a very real $11 million shortfall,” Glover said.
Glover is one of nine board members, and the decision would need to be made through a majority vote. It’s unknown, Glover said, how many positions could be affected.
The trouble for the district is that, as the economy struggles, sales tax revenues are coming in below projections. Officials project an $11 million revenue shortage for the entire school year. That’s a drop in the bucket of the district’s total $627 million operating budget, and sales tax revenues are not the only sources of income for MNPS. But the trouble may continue to grow, as the economy shows few signs of turning a corner soon.
Chris Henson, interim director of schools for MNPS, said Wednesday that he believes layoffs should be considered, “the choice of last resort.”
At a Wednesday meeting of the board’s budget and finance committee, Glover said he believes one option is to go to the bargaining table with labor unions and negotiate salary decreases for all employees, so that “everyone can keep their jobs.”
Leaders of two labor unions with district employees say they’re not interested, citing among other things the surplus reserve funds available to the district.
“I think it would be a hard sell with so much money in the reserve funds,” said Teresa West, chief steward of the MNPS chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). “[The employees we represent] didn’t get raises last year.”
Stephen Henry, of teachers’ union the Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA), said that reserve funds are for circumstances such as these. And this is a school year, Henry said, in which teachers have already increased their workloads with no increase in salaries.
“To even put this on the table is totally inappropriate,” Henry said.
Glover plans to make the motion at the Board’s 5 p.m. meeting Tuesday at the district central office, 2601 Bransford Ave.
According to Glover, making up for the projected $11 million shortfall entirely with reserve dollars would just mean that more cuts would be needed for next year’s budget – about $18 million worth, he said, which would affect more positions than the cuts currently being discussed.
About $19 million in funding for the current school year was pulled from the district’s reserve funds, representing a use of non-recurring funds for expenses that need to be paid each year.
Currently, MNPS has $52 million in undesignated reserve funds. Metro’s Finance Department has a policy specifying that a reserve balance of 5 percent of total a total fund should be maintained in reserves. MNPS’s reserve balance is still well above those requirements – 5 percent of the district’s operating budget would represent about $30 million, and 3 percent about $18 million.
Budget balanced for school year to date
Officials have raised concerns that spending for this school year might come in above what has been budgeted, due in part to expenses raised after the budget was approved – Mayor Karl Dean asked the district to immediately pay to ensure that there is a monitor on every special education bus, and the state Department of Education implemented a central office reorganization.
But on Wednesday, officials presented an amended budget that was balanced. The situation was helped by $6.1 million saved through a hiring freeze and savings realized through employee turnover.
Henson said he is pleased with the amended budget.
“A budget is an estimate,” Henson said. “We feel good about being able to bring a balanced amendment at this point.”
The amended budget includes more than $250,000 spent on the state reorganization, as well as millions attributed to state directives.
Kecia Ray, director of federal programs for the district, said it’s tough to pin down a cost for state interventions. Many directives, she said, are needs identified by schools that are considered state directives once schools reach a certain status under federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) laws. It’s incumbent on the district, Ray said, to look at ways to improve
In addition, the amended budget includes more than $2.8 million for bus monitors, a few of which were not part of the Dean-requested special education bus monitor increase. funding formulas.
School districts in all six counties contiguous to Davidson have one monitor budgeted for each special education bus, as do most urban districts in the state, according to information gathered by MNPS at Dean’s request. Also, the district is currently the target of a class action lawsuit, after the alleged sexual assault of two young special education students traveling in special education school buses. The assaults are believed to have been committed by other students; special education kids of various ages and conditions travel on the same buses together.