Facing about $17.7 million in cuts from the school district’s wish list budget, Metro Nashville Public Schools district board members are beginning to question whether officials are overlooking fat to cut elsewhere.
The school board heard a second round of revisions to the district’s new scaled-back $746 million budget plan at its regular work session meeting Tuesday. The reductions would include lowering raises, hiring fewer new teachers and laying off some staff in the district’s central office.
“The proposed budget is still heavy on the administrative side,” said Madison-area member Jill Speering in a statement she read to the school board. She said she wants to ensure money is spent to improve literacy in the district.
Her comments were seconded by board member Elissa Kim whose district stretches from East Nashville to Pearl-Cohn High School. She said district officials need to “stop the cycle” of assuming everything MNPS currently spends money on needs to be kept.
Director of Schools Jesse Register said the district budget is low on frills and staff have combed through the budget to come up with cuts that are still tough to make.
“We have good support with our budget now. It’s not bare bones, but it is what we need to have to adequately provide programs and services for our students. That’s what’s important.” said Register who said he hopes the Metro Council approves more additional dollars for the district. “You can always make cuts in one place or another. The issue is to fund the programs that return a benefit and to make reductions that are the least.”
With MNPS set to go before the Metro Council Thursday to explain its spending plan, Board Chair Cheryl Mayes urged each of the members to attend the hearing in a sign of solidarity for the dollars the district is asking for.
“We’re bare bones as it is,” said Mayes about the district’s original request for $44 million more dollars next school year that was then reduced to a $26 million increase. “It was not anything that was pie-in-the-sky, over-the-moon or anything.”
The school board originally asked Mayor Karl Dean for $764 million next school year. Citing repeated years of spending more money on education while other city agencies budgets held steady, Dean cut that proposal to $746 million.
While the school district continues to refine numbers to account for the expected adjustments to the budget, the board will not approve a final spending plan  until after Metro government officials have approved a budget total.
Among other reductions, the latest proposal includes freezing salary step increases; reducing across-the-board raises from 1.5 percent to 1.12 percent to all employees; eliminating 21 central office positions, some of which are currently staffed; and reducing seven new teaching positions.
For budgetary reasons, he district also expects LEAD Prep Southeast — a charter school opening this fall — to take on fewer students than expected this year due to space constraints, and to let the federal government cover the tab for several programs for one more year.