After months of failing to convince Metro government officials to further boost funding for the school district’s operating budget, the school board unanimously settled on a spending plan which includes an extra $26 million.
While Metro Nashville Public Schools doesn’t necessarily dish out dollars to schools on a per student basis, next year’s budget represents a total increase of $137 per student.
“We’re still moving into positive territory,” said Will Pinkston, a board member chairing the panel’s finance committee which unanimously approved the budget.
But the school board also spent part of their regular meeting Tuesday laying the groundwork for a discussion over the district’s balanced school year, use of “intersession” spring and fall breaks and adding more days to the school year.
Director of Schools Jesse Register urged the board to evaluate this year’s first-run through the balanced school year carefully and indicated he’d like the district to consider reducing the two-week breaks in the fall and spring to one week each and instead add five more classroom days and four teacher training days to the calendar.
He said the district will spend the summer examining the effect the balanced calendar had on factors like student attendance, discipline and test performance.
“I think we need to think about longer time for students if we want them to be more successful in school,” said Register. The board expects to pick up debate on the longer school year in August.
The calendar is already set for the 2013-14 school year, which kicks off for students on Aug. 1.
Pinkston and district officials originally asked Mayor Karl Dean for a $44 million boost in spending for the upcoming budget year. Dean cut the budget back to a $746 million budget, which the Metro Council backed.
The 81,000-student school district spending plan, which the board passed easily and without discussion at the board meeting, makes room for an extra 1,600 students expected to join the system next school year.
For the more than 10,000 teachers and staff employed at MNPS, all will receive a 1.12 percent raise, which is required by the state. However, the district is freezing step increases this year.
The district plan eliminates 44 positions, including 20 jobs teaching English language learners — a result of more teachers earning ELL credentials which rendered other positions unnecessary. Another 21.5 slots in the Central Office will also be eliminated.
Chief Financial Officer Chris Henson did not know how many of those positions were currently filled, but said people affected by eliminating those positions have been informed their jobs will be lost.
The district would also add 80.8 positions, 67 of which are teachers or “Exceptional Education” assistants.
The budget also includes an additional $14 million in growth of charter schools — privately run but publicly funded schools within the district. It also includes increased costs for employee benefits and select programs.
While the budget includes an increase in funding, members of the school board and Register were hoping for a larger increase that would have covered higher salary increases for teachers and would have allowed the district to begin paying for federally funded programs.
The result, Register said, is the potential for a “fiscal cliff” next year when the district wants to begin paying for programs the federal government will stop paying for.
Of the $26 million new dollars, $12 million comes from MNPS’s rainy day fund. Another $10 million is funneled into the district by the state through its Basic Education Program fund which apportions dollars based on a per student formula. Another $4 million comes from local tax revenue.
The budget year kicks in July 1 and runs through June 30, 2014.