Administrators at Metro Nashville Public Schools are estimating a $35 million shortfall for the 2010-2011 fiscal budget year, a scenario that could lead to “drastic cuts,” though Director of Schools Jesse Register has vowed to avoid eliminating teachers’ positions.
Obligations to pay higher employee pensions and insurance costs, combined with the district’s use of rainy day funds during its budget crisis last year, could leave MNPS officials and the nine-member school board exploring ways to slash its $620.7 million operating budget –– either that, or the mayor’s office and Metro Council would need to find a revenue source to make up the difference.
The school board’s Budget and Finance Committee discussed the still-preliminary figures Tuesday in the first of a series of meetings outlined to approve a budget by April, before sending it to Mayor Karl Dean and the council.
“Be prepared for drastic reductions if no new funding is identified,” committee chairman Steve Glover told his fellow board members. “We’ve had some interesting times over the past few years. It’s going to be very interesting this time. I don’t think any of us have seen what we’re about to look at.”
Sluggish sales tax revenue last year led to a significantly smaller $15.4 million shortfall, prompting MNPS to slash 150 teacher positions, 66 custodial jobs and 32 campus supervisors, among other cuts. Register doesn’t want that to happen this time around.
“We changed our staffing pattern significantly last year and reduced the number of teachers,” Register said. “We cannot do that again. Another reduction in classroom teaching positions is not something we can do. We’ve got to protect at all costs instructional programs.”
Sales tax revenue for the current budget is $7.5 million short of projections. The district also has to account for a $6 million increase in employee insurance costs, along with an additional $12.4 million in pension funds. Making matters worse, another $12.4 million in reserve funds used during last year’s budget crisis will come out of this year’s budget.
Historically, the district has tapped into its undesignated reserve funds –– set aside as rainy day funds dollars –– during budget shortfalls. But Tennessee state law requires all districts to keep reserves above 3 percent of their budgets. The MNPS reserve funds have gotten so low that using them is off limits.
“This is a dilemma, but it’s not of anyone’s doing in Davidson County, or in the school district, or in Metro government,” Register said. “It’s the hand we’re being dealt because of the economy.”