Ahead of a budget season when a property tax hike appears to be on the table, Metro Director of Schools Jesse Register tried to make the case Tuesday night for significant education investments to increase pay for teachers and fix dilapidated schools.
“We must develop plans for expansion and new construction, as our district enrollment continues to grow and schools become overcrowded,” Register said at his annual State of Metro Schools address Tuesday evening.
Register said the district is facing more than $185 million in “unmet capital needs,” pointing specifically to Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet School, long one of Metro’s highest-achieving schools, which nonetheless lacks a functional gym .
He added that he recently met with parents of Julia Green Elementary School, who are concerned about the Green Hills-area school’s overcrowding. “We are experiencing similar growth patterns in several other communities throughout the county, and they must be addressed.”
The timing of Register’s spending plea can’t be understated.
In a January phone survey, Mayor Karl Dean’s campaign committee polled Nashvillians  on enacting the city’s first tax increase since 2005. The poll asked about a 50-cent increase to Metro’s $4.13 tax rate. Based on its questioning, using added revenue for schools seems like one way to justify a tax hike — if Dean elects to do so.
Dean is set to meet with Metro department heads in the coming weeks to begin hammering out the budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
On top of capital spending needs, Register said the district “must seriously examine our salary structure” for teachers. In the next budget, he said he hopes to raise starting salaries for teachers to $40,000 — an approximate $5,000 bump — while “compressing” teachers’ pay schedule over their first five years.
“This puts us above most districts in Tennessee and will greatly increase our ability to recruit top teachers,” he said.
Register also said the operating budget for the next year would include a 2 percent raise for support staff employees, which includes custodians, groundskeepers and bus drivers.
Altogether, Register’s laundry list of spending needs would require significant spending in Metro schools following several years of tight budgets.
Talking to reporters after the 30-minute address, Register balked at a question about whether a tax hike could be used to pay for the education needs.
“That’s not my call at all,” Register said. “What our job is now is to let the mayor and Metro Council know what our needs are.”