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VOL. 129 | NO. 80 | Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hopson Pushes Realignment, New Goals in Budget

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Schools budget overview

After hearing from more than a dozen citizens Tuesday, April 22, including some who quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in their arguments against specific Shelby County Schools budget cuts, superintendent Dorsey Hopson had his own quote from the civil rights leader.

“‘An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity,’” was the King quote Hopson used in defense of the $946.9 million operating budget proposal approved by the Shelby County Schools board at the Tuesday meeting.

“I know that quote because no matter where I have gone, everyone tells me how important it is not to cut their stuff,” Hopson continued. “And people have sat in meetings with me and said, ‘I don’t care about that stuff over there. I’m only concerned about my stuff.’”

The proposal – which now goes to the Shelby County Commission for review, and from there to state education officials – is more than a reflection of the move from a single merged public school district to seven districts when the demerger takes effect in August.

Hopson defended the cuts and “tough decisions” as necessary for a realignment to new school system goals, including having every third-grade student reading at or above grade level. Currently, 33 percent of third-graders in the system read at or above grade level.

HOPSON

“The reality is that we still have efficiencies that we need to find before we go out and ask for support. It’s just the reality,” he said. “Our enrollment is declining. Our income is declining. So we are going to consistently be asked to do more with less.”

Meanwhile, Hopson plans to broaden the goals even more to include making 80 percent of seniors ready for college and/or careers by 2025.

The goal is aimed at students entering elementary school now who will graduate from high school in 2025.

For now, the proposed goal is just that, with Hopson and his staff to present a plan in December if the school board approves the goal at its April 29 meeting.

Tuesday’s 6-0 budget vote reflects the school board is behind the realignment.

“We plan to go deeper in alignment in future fiscal years,” said school board Chairman Kevin Woods.

The budget proposal includes a $248.6 million reduction in revenue available to the school system for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

As a result of the demerger, Shelby County Schools will see an estimated $16.4 million less in Basic Education Program funding from the state.

Hopson said his staff has found a way to make up for approximately $7 million of that loss through other revenue sources. Revenue estimates include about $2 million more in county funding through better property and sales tax collections.

The budget also includes using $19.4 million in the school system’s fund balance or reserve fund. It restores 26 prekindergarten classrooms that were to be cut in the budget’s first draft.

And the budget does not include any additional world language teachers but does restore some world language classes originally to be cut.

Hopson said the decision to include no new world language positions was because areas like the literacy effort “in our judgment were more pressing than world language.”

Hopson said the current world language programs are “well-intentioned.”

“Between Chinese and Russian and increasing support in the area of literacy where we have 70 percent of our inner-city kids not reading on grade level by the time they are in third grade, we just felt that those kind of supports were more important,” he said.

The budget also keeps the current set of three bell times in the next school year but eliminates driver education classes and a 2 percent cost-of-living salary increase. The plan also cuts funding in the new fiscal year for digital devices that are part of the “blended learning” pilot project originally funded at $5.9 million.

Hopson and his staff found approximately $4 million in the current $1.1 billion operating budget to fund the purchase of some devices for the new school year.

The budget proposal also restored 81 teaching positions cut in the first draft because of classroom overcrowding concerns.

The plan also reflects the school board’s decision to close 10 schools in the coming school year, although Hopson has consistently said the savings from the closings is a relatively small amount that did not drive his recommendation to the board on the closings.

Instead, Hopson called for the closings as part of the broader realignment of the school district into the demerger and beyond.

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