Metro Director of Schools Jesse Register has proposed a $722.4 million budget for the next fiscal year, a sizeable $48.3 million increase over current education spending to account for a combination of mandatory and proposed new expenditures.
Register’s budget is the subject of a public hearing Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the district’s school board meeting room. From there, it goes before the nine-member school board for a vote on April 10 before budget hearings begin with Mayor Karl Dean’s administration.
If approved, the schools budget for fiscal year 2012-13 would amount to one of Metro’s largest school-spending increases in recent memory, 7.2 percent over the ongoing fiscal year. The current budget –– $674 million –– is $40 million greater than the one that preceded it.
“I don’t know if it’s the largest [ever], but it’s a sizeable increase,” Chris Henson, the school district’s financial officer, told The City Paper.
Among required spending obligations are 100 new teachers to accommodate a 1,600-student increase in enrollment and to fall in line with state-mandated student-to-teacher ratios; the opening of the new Cane Ridge Elementary School; a 2 percent salary increase for some support staff workers; salary step increasing for other employees; and rising insurance and pensions costs.
Additional dollars are set aside for new initiatives: a Register-endorsed plan to bump the starting salary of teachers to $40,000; a new so-called “Bridge School,” to help the transition from middle to high school; and Dean’s “Music Makes Us” program, conceived as an overhaul of the district’s music education program.
Henson said the proposed schools budget is still subject to change before going before the board for approval.
Metro school officials last year had to cope with tapped federal stimulus dollars and vanishing federal jobs money. In the end, Dean approved Register’s budget, and then campaigned on the tag “fully funding schools” during his re-election bid. Nonetheless, the loss of federal assistance resulted in a decrease of 334 teaching positions.
Like recent cycles, the district is feeling the pressure of a tight budget with limited revenue. But this time, dominating chatter over the budget process is a possible property tax hike, which would be Metro’s first since 2005. Dean’s administration has polled Nashvillians on a tax hike, and it appears to be on the table.