School Board has sticker shock over increased charter school costs

Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 12:17am

A routine meeting to review Metro Nashville Public Schools’ nearly $765 million budget proposal for next school year Monday afternoon broke into a makeshift policy meeting about the financial effect of opening more charter schools.

About a third of a $44 million budget increase that Director of Schools Jesse Register is asking the Metro school board to approve is directly attributed to the district’s growing charter school community.

“What comes to mind for me, just from a fiscal perspective, is a strong potential for a tax increase,” said Amy Frogge, a school board member.

“This is a huge jump, $15 million, just for the schools we’ve already approved, and we don’t know what the state’s going to send our way. And if we’re paying two-thirds of those costs, where’s that money going to come from?” she asked.

The budget proposal includes $14.8 million for charter school costs, including the price tag to open five schools slated for fall 2013, add new grade levels at existing charter schools and cover expected increases in the per-pupil funding cost.

The cost for charter-related expenses gave members of the school board pause at their Budget and Finance Committee meeting as talk about the cost of charter schools intersected with the latest version of legislation on Capitol Hill that would give the state power to approve charter schools the district would have to pay for.

Following a messy fight between the district and the state over MNPS’ high-profile rejection of a charter school proposal, House Speaker Beth Harwell is spearheading legislation that would allow a state panel to approve the applications of quality charter schools the districts refused.

While board members said the legislation is “a step in the right direction” from a more restrictive bill that targeted only Nashville and Memphis, board member Will Pinkston said he still has concerns the plan lacks the “guardrails” to keep the districts from falling off its own “fiscal cliff.”

“I think this has a lot of fiscal risk,” Pinkston said. “I just feel like we owe it to taxpayers and students’ families just to raise our hand in the process and say, ‘Can we get some fiscal assurances here?’ ”

The proposed legislation would create an independent state body to consider charter school applications rejected by the local school district. If the body decides to open the charter, the school district would be responsible for the cost to fund the school, although the state would be charged with the charter’s oversight.

Charter schools are privately run, publicly funded schools that can operate without the strings attached to traditional charter schools. For example, charter schools can exercise a longer school day, a year-round school year or exercise different management models. Charter schools that are failing are also much easier to close.

Charter schools are a piece of the ongoing education reform movement to give parents more choice. In addition to giving the state more power to approve charter schools, lawmakers are also considering giving low-income students state tax-dollars to cover their private school tuition.

With 10 charter schools lined up to apply to open schools in the district later this spring and the ongoing momentum of the charter school movement in Nashville, board member Elissa Kim said it’s time the district revamp how it looks at funding education in traditional and charter schools. Board Chairwoman Cheryl Mayes agreed, adding the district and board are typically more reactive and need to think proactive going forward.

The proposed $44 million budget increase also includes step salary raises and a 1.5 percent pay boost for certificate and support staff, additional teachers to compensate for student growth, and several new or expanded programs.

The district’s Budget and Finance Committee is scheduled to meet again Tuesday, March 11, to review the budget proposal again.

21 Comments on this post:

By: ancienthighway on 3/5/13 at 1:12

Oh, those crafty Republicans! They'll get their charter schools into Memphis and Nashville. They'll get their vouchers for every student. And with the state providing only 1/3 of the cost of state approved charters, the Democrats in Memphis and Nashville will be tagged with raising taxes. No if only they could finagle a smaller government out of the deal, but they aren't done yet!

By: Rasputin72 on 3/5/13 at 3:20

The true cost of a cotton shirt gets higher every decade.

By: govskeptic on 3/5/13 at 8:46

Amy Frogge sees a potential for a tax increase? No doubt, she probably has
pleasant dreams nightly about a tax increase, it's a liberal geneie thingy.
Just because the Super has a larger amount than expected in the budget for
Charters doesn't mean that where the actual intent to spend that extra will occur.

By: on 3/5/13 at 9:09

This is just the beginning. Long-term many of the charter schools will be a disaster. After the Tennessee General Assembly makes the local school systems even weaker by encouraging charter schools, the people who will be damaged are the children who are in public school. Maybe it is a way to keep the "ruling class" in place, even though we are supposed to all have equal protection under the law (which includes the budget). Corporate charter schools are profit-making entities and and should never receive one penny of tax dollars.

By: pipecarver on 3/5/13 at 9:15

Hey Rocket Scientist: It doesn't take a degree in Economics to understand that adding a middle-man in the supply chain means the overall costs to the end-user (hint: meaning the taxpayers) is going to increase. I'll give you another piece of advice (free of charge). Once these people get their feet in the door, they are going to ask, no demand a price increase every time their contracts come up for renewal. Better hire yourself a good negotiator (one that does not have a bank account in the Caymans) to work on your behalf, because this is just the beginning of a very long series of tax increases. Mark my words, this WILL end up in a State income tax. So much for your little "costs savings" initiative.

But hey..."It's for our children's future, right?" (wink, wink).

By: CoyoteCrawford on 3/5/13 at 9:16

Republicans love big government.

By: InterestedObserver2 on 3/5/13 at 9:20

I am not an expert on the Charter School funding, but don't they get a per student allotment from Metro for each student enrolled at the school? This per student allotment is based on what metro is supposed to be spending to educate each child in the Metro public school system. If 10 charter schools take 5000 students out of the Metro system, why does the metro budget request to run the Metro schools (and educate 5000 fewer students) go down by 5000 x $X,XXX? I know I am frustrated by government in general currently, but this just sounds like another example of government largess continuing to dip into taxpayer pockets. The logic used by Mr Register and the School Board just does not make sense. In 5 years if we have 50 Charter schools educating 50% of the metro students, Metro will be asking for $1.4 billion to educate 1/2 as many students as they educate today.

By: KENW on 3/5/13 at 9:25

What about that line item: "Amy Frogge Idiocy $3.4 million"?

I love this part:

"For example, charter schools can exercise a longer school day, a year-round school year or exercise different management models. Charter schools that are failing are also much easier to close."

Isn't that great? They can try things to improve EDUCATION FOR STUDENTS. And if it doesn't work it's easier to close the school and do something else. Try that with an existing metro Nashville public school.

There are people here that will defend the status quo to their death rather than accept any attempt at improvement. Their motto should be "let's all strive for mediocrity!"

By: pswindle on 3/5/13 at 9:55

This is the beginning of destroying the Public Schools. The GOP goes after the money. If they can take away enough money the class of people that will be hurt is the struggling class. The GOP does not want to educate them anyway. This is gong after they money by the backdoor. If they take voucher money from the public schools, what's left? At the next election. we must vote these crazies out of office.

By: NoThankYou on 3/5/13 at 10:06

What happened to the time where MNPS focused on creating good healthy strong curriculums and schools for students and teachers? If we get back to the basics of providing a first-class education for every MNPS student we wouldn't need charter schools.

Every student in every MNP school should receive a high quality education and no school should receive more than any other school in the district, it's about equality for every student regardless of their zip code or neighborhood.

I do not mind paying more in property taxes but only if it means that I get a better school system.

In less than three years I will not have a student in MNPS but I am still willing to pay more to get more and not just more for my student but for every student in MNPS.


By: Lou2 on 3/5/13 at 10:51

Everyone should read, re-read, and then memorize pipecarver's post.

Obviously Amy Frogge is making the point that there ain't no free lunch. Not advocating for tax increases, just saying it's going to happen if we aren't smart about it. If you want better schools, and especially if you want to do it by opening the door to profiteering, we'll have to pay for it. No question about it.

What, the charter school folks would actually prioritize their personal financial gain at the expense of a large, complex, difficult-to-regulate institution or entitlement? I've never heard of something like that happening.

By: GoodieTwoShoes on 3/5/13 at 10:54

Let me ask a question: We have folks that are telling us that MNPS are failing. Even though they have been improving. We have folks telling us that charters, the for profit, waiting in the wings charters, are a vast improvement over what we have. Even though these business model charters score in some cases worse than the schools we have now. The cure for our "ailing" schools is to get rid of our certificate having, advanced teaching degree teachers and replace them with fresh TFA trained teachers. And Oh by the way, we're going to take public money and give it to the unregulated "Mo' Money Charter corp" to open 12 new schools. And It's all for the good of the kids. And we already need more money. Is that what I'm hearing?

By: amoobrasil on 3/5/13 at 11:43

i am a taxpayer has it right. The for-profit corporations, like government contractors, get a foot in the door and then stick it to the taxpayer.

The Metro Council would do well to heed the wisdom of Josh Stites. We must not be in the business of tilting the playing field in favor of powerful, monied corporations seeking to take business from our local businessmen and local control over our schools from the Davidson County taxpayer.

We have no business using tax money to fund private schools. Our focus must be on public schools--not on providing an opportunity for some white parents to send their kids to largely segregated schools.

By: JA LAW on 3/5/13 at 12:30

MNPS has by their own admission 79,000 students. This article states their budget is $765 M

For comparison, an article today in the Williamson County Section states that the Williamson County School system's budget is $260 M. They have 33,500 students.

MNPS spends $9,684 per pupil; WCS spends $7,761 per pupil. In my mind this raises two questions; 1) This kind of begs the question that spending more means better school results, right?, 2) Why is MNPS spending so much higher? If MNPS spending per pupil matched Williamson County's, MNPS's budget would $152M less than it is today. That sounds like tax refund to me!

By: mg357 on 3/5/13 at 1:12

mg357....Consider this for a moment. Didn't Nashville just get a tax increase to fund more pre-k education? Is this included in the budget proposal? I agree with the poster about a middleman. The charters run by Chris Barbric in Memphis are already failing and if memory serves, he also runs some of the metro charters @$250K salary that is in addition to the regular school budget. When charters were first mentioned, the Dems protested saying they would take money away from public schools which they do and are no more of a success than anything in the current status quo. They just don't operate under the guidance of the school board. I've heard it said that the majority of funding goes to administration which may/may not be true but it stands to reason. If Williamson County does so well, they may have rules in place that are lacking in metro and chances are they have parents who care and children who want to learn. Public schools now are a *catch 22* for everything because they are *free*, yeah right, ask the property owners what they think about increased taxes getting thrown down a rathole.

By: govskeptic on 3/5/13 at 2:31

It appears many of the teachers and other Education paychecks are posting their
dislike for the Charters. Of course, that's status quo speaking for 30 more years
of the same.

By: Balo on 3/5/13 at 3:33

Again, the people are missing the point. Charter Schools have very little to do with education. It is a means for this generation of shameless politicians (on both sides) to get their hands on the money. They do this by selling this dubious cure all educational system to a segment of our community. The modern day snake oil salesman.

Millions of dollars for the operation of a separate school system plus millions of dollars to construct or re-hap buildings to house these schools. In the coming years, more millions heading toward billions.

At some point, the citizens of this proud county must figure it out.

By: pswindle on 3/5/13 at 8:01

Charter Schools are money driven, not educational driven. This reminds be of the old saying, "I laughed all the way to the Bank." This is what the Charter Schools are doing, making fools out of MNPS and the state

By: firstworldproblems on 3/5/13 at 11:38

JA LAW, I'm probably totally wrong here, but there are many things that I would guess get paid from that pot-o-money that would not be counted from the "per pupil" expenditure. There are also issues unique to Nashville that Williamson does not have to deal with. Here are a couple of for-instances:

1) An extended free- and reduced-lunch program. I know that there are FRL kids in Williamson County. But there are LOTS of them in Nashville. Enough of them that there are people whose job it is to process these forms and make sure that other things that fall under the FRL program (general Title 1 initiatives) are carried out.

2) Williamson County does not stagger school start times at some of its schools, I do believe, so some of the schools can share buses and ride together. That is done at many small schools. Not so in Metro.

3) Because Metro is still coming off of its School Improvement Status, we have many people at the district level in place to keep us on track. They will be there for a while, and they are good. They help us with data, literacy, numeracy...anything so that we can spot good and bad trends early, rather than finding out after the test that Little Johnny is going to fail. We have placed Literacy Intervention programs into most of our middle and high schools.

And lastly, to put it bluntly, we need more people and resources in place to effectively discipline and manage kids from the projects, non-English speakers, etc. Williamson doesn't have that issue. Let's call a spade a spade.

By: Rasputin72 on 3/6/13 at 2:03

I think you will get a lot of objections to calling a spade a spade. It may be against the law.

By: pswindle on 3/6/13 at 5:52

What will Metro do when the Charters suck all of the money? I do not believe that the people of Nashville/Davidson Co. will stand for another tax hike. The Governor needs to back off and let Metro solve their problems with Charters.