A controversial $633 million budget proposal for Metro schools has the support of Mayor Karl Dean, who said today his goal is to provide funding requested by Director of Schools Jesse Register.
Dean and other mayor’s offices representatives sat down with Register and school board members today to discuss a budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year that would outsource more than 600 custodial positions, reduce hours for bus drivers and lay off 24 central office employees. Those measures, heavily criticized by some, would net the district $10.9 million savings.
The budget, already approved by the school board by a narrow 5-4 vote, has been billed by Register from the outset as attempt to protect the positions of teachers, a way to avoid eliminating 150 teaching positions like last year.
Sitting across from Register, Dean seemed to applaud that initiative.
“My goal with the schools is to maintain the funding and try to reach this number that you have submitted,” Dean told Register. “I know the board and the administration have made some difficult decisions, but I think your emphasis on the classroom is key.
“I think a lot in the past, we’ve made a couple of steps forward with schools and then we make a full step back,” Dean added. “We don’t want to go back. We want to keep going forward.”
The $633 million budget would be a $12.6 million, 2 percent increase over the district’s current budget. Because school officials opted to take $12.4 million from reserves to fund the current year, in effect depleting its reserves, “the revenue gap is approximately $25 million,” according to Chris Henson, chief financial officer for MNPS.
Dean, working alongside Metro Finance Director Richard Riebeling, is expected to hand the Metro Council a final budget proposal by May 1.
Asked how the city would make up the $25 million revenue gap, Riebeling said, “In two weeks, you’ll find out.”
During a tight budget year in which most Metro departments are anticipating cuts — a 7.5 percent reduction has been the figure analyzed — Dean, who consistently calls educations his top priority, indicated Metro schools could be the sole beneficiary of a budget increase.
“I think it’s fair to say maybe one or two department [budgets] will go up, but probably very few, if any,” Dean said. “Almost all will be receiving reductions.”
Accordingly, when comparing Nashville to other cities and states that have reduced their number of teachers — Los Angeles, Cleveland, New Jersey and Illinois, for example — Dean seemed to say Nashville is in good standing.
Nonetheless, the school district has been under fire for cuts that target bus drivers and custodians, some of the lowest-paid Metro schools employees.
Nearly 100 protestors — mostly members of the local Service Employee International and United Steelworkers unions — convened to hold a prayer vigil outside the Metro Courthouse prior to the budget hearing.
“We’ve been asked to increase the schools’ budget by 2 percent. They’ve asked us to fund that budget,” said Dean when asked for his response to the vigil. “We do not establish the line items in the budget. Dr. Register has put an emphasis on what goes on in the classroom, which is what I think schools do.”