School board budget recommends cutting 209 jobs, $15 million

Friday, April 24, 2009 at 4:53pm

After months of budget meetings and reports of declining tax revenues, Nashville’s Board of Education has finally approved a budget to recommend to Mayor Karl Dean. The budget approved by the board, as widely expected, recommends $15 million worth of spending cuts that eliminate a net total of 209 district jobs.

Next week, Dean will present his own plan for Metro spending to Metro Council. Council members have final say over the allocations received by each city department, including Metro schools.

The staff cuts include 130 classroom teaching positions, which district officials say can be accomplished through natural attrition. Every year, Metro Nashville Public Schools hires an average of 600 new teachers, officials said.

“We’re reducing by 130 the number of new employees we bring in,” Director of Schools Jesse Register told school board members.

Cuts of support staff and custodial jobs, however, represent actual layoffs. A net total of 66 custodial jobs are cut in the board’s budget. Employees will be laid off in order of seniority, with those newest to the district first to lose their jobs. MNPS officials say they plan to work cooperatively with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in laying off the workers.

Teresa West, chief steward of SEIU for MNPS, said the union isn’t giving up. Though the budget has been recommended by the board, it won’t be final until it is recommended by Dean and approved by the Council.

“Every year, cuts start with the custodians,” West said. “[Service employees] are like the foundation of the building. It won’t work without us.”

The budget approved by the board assumes that the district will receive the same level of funding from Metro government that was allotted last year. But on Thursday, district officials told board members that the latest revenue figures for the district being discussed by the Mayor’s Office could require as much as $20 million in spending cuts for next year, on top of the $15 million already planned.

School officials say that a decline in the amount of funding allocated to Metro schools from Metro government could violate Tennessee’s “maintenance of effort” regulations, which prevent local government bodies from reducing funding levels for school districts. A spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Education confirmed with The City Paper that this interpretation is correct.

School board finance chair Steve Glover said this afternoon that he believes the board has done the right thing, in asking Metro government to allocate the same level of revenue provided last year.

“We’ve passed a budget that meets the requirement for maintenance of effort,” Glover said. “We’re not asking for anything more.”

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