By a narrow 5-to-4 vote, the Metro Nashville Board of Education tonight approved Director of Schools Jesse Register’s controversial $633 million budget proposal for the next fiscal year.
The budget, billed by Register as an attempt to protect teachers, would outsource the district’s 600-plus custodial workers, reduce the hours of school bus drivers and eliminate 24 central office positions. Cuts, which have proved contentious, would net the district nearly $11 million in savings.
Afterwards, Register said, “I feel like we’re in about as good a shape as we can be given the economy.
“We read about different places in the country that are closing schools and reducing very large number of teachers,” Register said. “We’ve very fortunate we don’t have to do that.”
The budget –– still lacking a revenue source for $25 million in funding –– is now off to Mayor Karl Dean, who plans to hand the Metro Council his final budget for Metro government by May 1.
Board approval came after a failed amendment from school board member Ed Kindall to increase the proposed budget figure by more than $4 million to allow custodians to remain working for the district instead of being outsourced. It was defeated by the same 5-to-4 margin.
“It frightens me a little bit that we’re talking about outsourcing,” Kindall said later. “I don’t think we’ll get the same quality.”
Earlier in the day, school board member Mark North led the board’s budget and finance committee through discussion on possible budget alternatives, including an across-the-board cut among all MNPS employees. He later found out state law prohibits reducing the salaries of licensed teachers. He ultimately voted against Register’s proposal.
“I had a lot of concerns about the idea that we are taking our lowest paid employees; we’re not changing their schedules; we’re not changing their work requirements; we’re just cutting their pay by 12.5 percent,” North said. “It was something I couldn’t support.”
After the board’s decision was clear, an audience of bus drivers and custodians interrupted with shouts and boos. Several angry spectators broke into a chant of, “Dr. Register has got to go.”
“I’m going to lose $100 a week,” said Gidgett Yarlett, an MNPS bus driver for 23 years. “This had been the first time in years I hadn’t had to work two jobs. Now I’m going to have to work two jobs again.”
Sixty-two-year-old Clarence Cobbins, a custodian in Metro schools for more than two decades, called the vote “disappointing,” but said he’s not surprised.
“I don’t think I’ll work for another company,” he said. “I think I’ll retire.”
Board members who signed off on the budget acknowledged the difficulty of the decision, but in the end sided with Register’s appeal to protect the classroom.
“We have fabulous custodians and bus drivers,” said school board chair David Fox, who voted for the budget. “The fact that we would do anything that financially damages them is heartbreaking to us, but we have to understand that the core part of our organization is to maximize the academic benefits for children.”
Board members who voted for the budget were: JoAnn Brannon, Fox, Steve Glover, Gracie Porter and Kay Simmons.
Board members who against the budget were: Sharon Gentry, Karon Johnson, Kindall and North.