Director of Schools Jesse Register’s proposed $722.9 million education budget received unanimous school board approval Tuesday night and is now set to go before Mayor Karl Dean’s administration.
As expected, the Metro school board voted 8-0 Tuesday night to approve a set of budget priorities for the 2012-13 fiscal year  that amounts to a sizeable $48.9 million increase over the current fiscal year. Clearing Tuesday’s hurdle, the budget will next be the topic of discussion April 13 as part of the mayor’s budget hearings as Dean’s administration prepares an operating budget for Metro.
“It’s a big request, but we feel like we’ve had great support from Mayor Dean and the Metro Council,” Register said. “We think they mean what they say. They want to make education the top priority in the community.”
During Register’s tenure in Nashville, Dean and the council each year have funded MNPS to the level of the school board’s request.
At issue this budget cycle is a Metro schools budget that would be the largest increase in recent memory: 7.3 percent greater than the current fiscal year’s $674 million budget.
With Metro’s enrollment already nearing 80,000, school officials are expecting an additional 1,600 to 1,700 students next year. To accommodate for growth, the budget includes an additional 100 new teaching positions.
Other expenditures are set aside for the opening of the new Cane Ridge Elementary School and a 2 percent salary increase for some support staff workers. In addition, the budget accounts for traditional budgetary requirements –– so-called “fixed costs” such as salary step increases for certain employees and rising insurance and pensions costs.
Dollars are also set aside for new initiatives including a Register-endorsed plan to bump the starting salary of teachers to $40,000. The idea, he has said, is to put Metro in better position to compete for top-tier teachers.
“We no longer want to be 27th in the state in beginning teacher pay,” Register said. “We want to be very competitive in being able to recruit the highest quality teachers to our district.”
Register has also planned a so-called “Bridge School,” to help the transition from middle to high school, which requires funding. The budget also accounts for Dean’s “Music Makes Us” program, conceived as an overhaul of the district’s music education program.
According to the district’s chief financial Chris Henson, the requested budget is likely to experience some slight changes after school officials gather further revenue information.
Like recent budget 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.