Metro Nashville Public Schools is looking to pick up an extra $44 million for next school year’s budget, and Mayor Karl Dean is reticent to give the district all of it.
During the recent economic downturn, funding for education has continued to grow while most other Metro services were stuck in place, and Dean hinted earlier this month at a need to balance that.
But exactly what will be shaved or chopped off MNPS’ $764 million proposed operating budget is yet to be seen, although the mayor indicated he’s unwilling to sacrifice the district’s charter schools to do it.
Dean’s office expects the school district to cut between $20 million and $25 million from its budget proposal. That roughly cuts in half the $44 million in new spending school officials had hoped for, but still represents a net budget increase.
“The hardest part about this budget and every budget over the next decade will be the fact that we are an urban system that’s growing, and that’s a special thing,”said Will Pinkston, a Metro school board member and budget committee chairman who represents the Glencliff cluster and part of the Overton cluster of schools.
The district expects to grow from some 81,000 students now to 93,000 in the next decade, said Pinkston, taking in what will amount to organic increases in the number of pupils the district will be responsible for.
Next year alone, the district expects to welcome 750 more students into traditional schools and another 1,000 into chartered ones.
With charter schools in the political limelight, Dean said he is standing by funding for the publicly funded, privately run schools. Almost $15 million of the district’s proposed budget increase was set aside for charter expansion in the next school year, which includes opening five new schools and adding more grade levels to others.
“I think it’s definitely worth it,” said Dean when asked by reporters whether next year’s new charter school spending should be protected.
“What I’m concerned about is bringing quality education to kids, and giving families choices, and I think they do that. There’s a cost to everything,” he continued. “And we have to look at this and analyze it to the best of our ability, and we will.”
MNPS board members have hinted that the cost of charter schools can be a catalyst for a tax increase, but Dean quelled concerns about building any tax increase into this year’s budget, saying he would not be asking for any additional revenue, nor property tax increases this year.
Metro’s budget for the current year tops off at $1.7 billion, according to the Mayor’s Office. The largest chunk of those dollars goes to education to the tune of 42 percent.
Public safety amounts to 22 percent of the budget while the rest is spread out between general government, debt service, health and social service, infrastructure and recreation and culture.
Of the $44 million extra dollars the district asked for, a little more than a third of it would cover state-mandated salary and benefit increases, including a 1.5 percent boost in salary the district has yet to decide how to divvy out.
Another third would send more students to charter schools, and the rest would pay for a mix of new teaching positions and a handful of projects, including some the federal government will soon no longer fund.
The district’s budget also includes eliminating 33.5 positions, then adding 113 more for a net gain of about 79 jobs.
Jesse Register, the MNPS director of schools, refused to say what in the district’s proposed budget he’s willing to forego this year.
“We’re going through to find those areas where we feel like we’ll do the least damage,” he said.