Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Metro schools avoid layoffs, but $4M more in cuts expected
Shortfall could mean loss of jobs next go-round By Jaime Sarrio • THE TENNESSEAN • December 16, 2008 Metro schools will trim $3 million from its budget by freezing job openings, cutting money for band uniforms and tightening the belt on travel and spending. But board members say it won't be enough to plug the $12 million shortfall caused by slow sales tax collections. An additional $4 million probably will have to be cut from the $622.7 million budget in January, and that could mean layoffs, something officials were able to avoid this time around. "We're not having to lay anybody off and that's a great thing," said board member Steve Glover, chairman of the budget and finance committee. "At some point, if we have to keep reducing the budget, we're going to get into existing positions." Metro schools will pull $5 million from reserves to make up the remainder of the shortfall. Next year's picture looks worse and the board may have to pull $28 million from savings to keep the district afloat, Glover said. Districts across the state and the nation are bracing for cuts. In Louisville, Ky., board members are considering hundreds of job cuts and bus route reductions to offset a $45 million shortfall next year. In Las Vegas, officials are slashing 1,000 jobs and trimming athletic programs by 15 percent. In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the Broward County school board is seeking an unlikely $500 million bailout from the federal government. Metro schools has pulled $19.2 million from savings this year to maintain services. State law requires districts to keep 3 percent of their budget in a rainy-day fund. This round of reductions hits several departments, including gifted education services to special education supervisors. Many of the positions that won't be filled are at the central office and are clerical. The next round will be more difficult as the district tries to improve academics, said Interim Schools Director Chris Henson, whose permanent job is the district's financial director. The state has partial control in Metro because the district failed to meet benchmarks for five years. "Anything that comes close to the classroom may not impact the classroom directly, but it may impact it indirectly," he said. "We're trying to stay as far away from the classroom as we can." Henson said the district may enact a spending freeze, and has already instructed employees to be frugal with travel. Where the money goes Last month the district announced a $6 million savings thanks to a preliminary hiring freeze, but it had to shell out more for some services to address academic deficiencies and other concerns. These include: >> $2.8 million for monitors on special education buses, at the mayor's urging. >> $1.5 million for 29 new English Language Learning teachers to accommodate the state's direction and the district's growing foreign-language-speaking population. >> $270,000 for 14 more special education teachers to address low performance among some students. >> $1.3 million to hire assistant principals at high-priority schools, which board members say is linked to the state directives. Michael Holt, a parent of three Metro graduates, believes the district should take a look at consolidating city and schools services, such as libraries and maintenance, and cutting what he sees as excessive programs, such as the PALS initiative, which pairs full-time mentors with new teachers. Holt said the board should appoint a committee of business leaders and community members to determine how to make the district more efficient. "The only people ever threatened with layoff are janitors — and that's not where the real savings are," he said. "They need to stop trying to nourish their empire."
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