Shelby County Schools plans to ask county leaders for $10 million above its budget in order to boost literacy instruction, expand preschool classrooms, and help more students graduate.
The proposed investments reflect the Memphis district’s goals to expand programs that have improved student achievement. The 2019-20 budget is the first for Superintendent Joris Ray, who the school board appointed last month. It’s also a first for seven members of the county commission, a majority of the body that approves funding for local schools.
That brings the district’s proposed budget for day-to-day expenses to about $1.05 billion, which is about 3% less than the current spending plan. The district budget is determined by student enrollment, and the county is required to pay the district at least as much as it did last year. Shelby County Schools wants $10 million more than what would be allocated for next year.
“We have to move forward,” Ray said of the request. “If we’re going to meet the needs of our students academically, there are things that are non-negotiables.”
The board is also considering asking for $5.6 million on top of that to raise pay for about 800 part-time employees to $15 per hour, and to boost pay for some full-time employees.
The district’s request will be hard to meet, said Eddie Jones, chair of the commission’s budget committee. The commission gave the district $22 million three years ago, a significant boost from previous years, but extra allocations have dropped every year since.
Last year, in an unusual move, the commission divided the increase into two parts. The commission increased the district’s main budget by $6.1 million, but allocated $6.6 million as a one-time expense — money county leaders are not obligated to renew next school year.
“I don’t know where we’ll find the money. I’m just going to be honest,” Jones told Chalkbeat earlier this week.
School board members are expected to get a detailed spending plan this weekend ahead of a Tuesday vote. The district is scheduled to present the approved budget to county commissioners on May 29. The public will have an opportunity to comment on the approved budget at the board’s May 28 meeting.
The Shelby County Schools officials and county commissioners present said they agreed with the teachers’ requests in principle, though they sometimes differed on the specifics. The meeting at times grew tense as advocates pushed for “yes” or “no” answers, and some officials continued to explain their stances before the time they were allotted to elaborate.
Deputy superintendent Lin Johnson explained to the school board Friday what the $10 million would pay for:
- $2.5 million to add more preschool classrooms
- $2 million for phonics instruction across all grades
- $2 million for spring and fall break programs for students who need extra academic help, similar to the summer academy that the district said has led to higher test scores
- $1 million to expand a job program to certify students in computer science and coding
- $900,000 for more staff and instruction materials for English language learners
- $750,000 for a quarterly enrichment program for middle-school students performing above grade level in English and math
- $600,000 to expand the “Freshmen Success Academy,” a program to boost attendance and prevent ninth graders from dropping out of school
- $300,000 for tutors, including college students from nonprofit Peer Power, to prepare for the ACT college entrance exam
The minimum wage increase to $15 an hour for part-time workers would cost about $2 million and include cafeteria, after-school, and in-school suspension staff who work 30 to 35 hours per week, Johnson said. District leaders also want to include $3.6 million to give pay raises to full-time staff who currently make $15 an hour in positions that require an associate’s degree. This request is not included in the base budget, or the additional $10 million the district wants for academic improvements.
The base budget already includes $400,000 to replace federal money for Project Stand, a program for students leaving juvenile detention. The district has set aside $1.7 million for nearly 60 assistants for second grade teachers in schools with very low reading scores as leaders move toward retaining students who don’t read on grade level.
The budget also includes a 2.5% raise for teachers, thanks to Gov. Bill Lee’s state budget.
One of the biggest differences between the proposed budget and current one is the district is using $10 million of its reserves, down from $49 million last year. Board members and county commissioners urged the district in previous years to spend down their savings and reserve a smaller portion of their budget.
Meanwhile, the county commission is $3 million short in meeting its state-required contribution to schools, known as maintenance of effort, said Jones. That’s because property tax collections are lower than expected and schools were set up to receive a slightly lower portion of the county’s property tax rate last year under the previous county mayor, he said.
“We asked: Is this enough for the schools to meet their maintenance of effort? We were told yes,” Jones said. “Right now from everything that I’m seeing, it would be a tight budget with very little room to maneuver.”