VOL. 130 | NO. 79 | Thursday, April 23, 2015
Shelby County Schools Seeks New Funding for Classroom Investments
By Bill Dries
The bottom line on the Shelby County Schools budget proposal headed to Shelby County Commissioners is $973.5 million, but the dollar figure commissioners will be considering is $14 million.
That’s the amount of new funding the system is seeking from county government for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Otherwise, the school system’s budget is balanced.
All but $1 million of the $14 million is for a list of 15 items superintendent Dorsey Hopson has referred to as “high-leverage investments.”
And in approving the budget proposal Tuesday, April 21, the SCS board agreed they are necessary for the system’s ambitious goals of improving student achievement – third-grade reading proficiency in particular.
The 15 items include $4.4 million for computers that will be the only way to take the state’s student achievement tests. Other items include 25 more teachers, 15 reading intervention teachers and about $1 million in higher incentive pay for teachers and administrators above the step pay increase teachers across the system get.
In addition, SCS would add 15 guidance counselors and 15 social workers to be dispatched to so-called “hot spot” schools where there are discipline and attendance problems.
County government accounts for about $300 million of the total funding for the school system’s budget. County commissioners have the final word on that amount as well as the overall budget figure, which includes federal, state and grant funding. However, the county has no line-item control over the SCS budget.
If the commission votes to fund a budget less than $973.5 million, the approved amount would go back to the school board, which would adjust its line items to fit the funded amount.
In advance of the commission’s decision, the school system makes its case around the $14 million extra it wants in county funding and the $25 million the system has already put up from its reserve fund.
School board member Kevin Woods called the set of 15 items “the linchpin in being able to bring new students to our schools.”
“Short of this investment, you will continue to see declining enrollment,” he added.
The remaining $1 million being sought would partially make up for the loss of $4 million for special education students. State lawmakers cut the funding in last-minute changes as the year’s legislative session comes to an end.
SCS initially balanced its budget with word from Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam last week that it could count on approximately $10 million in extra state funding. But then $4 million was whittled from that in a budget process Hopson described as “fluid.”
The school system in the coming fiscal year is also making up for the loss of $6 million in other state funding to Innovation Zone schools – failing schools that undergo a transition in which they get new principals, teachers have to reapply for their jobs, and teaching assistants and intervention specialists step in to help students who are behind academically.
“All of the I-Zone support systems – the extended day, the additional reading teachers and the signing bonuses – those were all funded through student improvement grant dollars,” Hopson said of the state funding that the school system is now replacing with money from its general fund.
SCS is also losing federal Race to the Top funding, which flowed through the state, and a transition is underway for the system to fund what the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had been shouldering for several years in the way of pilot programs.
“We made that agreement with the Gates Foundation years ago,” Hopson said. “The plan was always when you get to this point in time, you start bringing on more of the personnel and then they would take care of things like data systems, more consultants and one-time expenses.”