Thursday, April 15, 2010

Nashville Mayor Dean says he'll try to fully fund schools

District says it's $25 million short of meeting needs By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • April 14, 2010 Mayor Karl Dean said Tuesday that he would try to come up with full funding for the Metro school district's $633.3 million budget request. At the end of a budget hearing with the district's elected and appointed leaders, Dean said his goal is to help the city's schools keep moving forward. "We don't want to go back," the mayor said. "We'll do the best we can." Dean has asked most Metro departments to prepare for the possibility of 7.5 percent budget cuts as the city continues to wrestle with the fallout from the nation's economic meltdown. He could seek a tax increase but might be reluctant to do so for political and economic reasons. Schools officials said they need a 2 percent increase in their operating budget for 2010-11, partly to cover legally mandated salary increases. That amounts to about $12.6 million over the $620.7 million the school district is working with this year. But the district also needs an additional $12 million from Metro's general fund beyond what it received last year. All told, the district says it is about $25 million short of funding the needs it has identified for 2010-11. Using reserves not an option This year the district was forced to take $12 million from its own reserves to meet its budget. But tapping the reserves is not an option in the coming year because it would bring those funds down to dangerously low levels. Schools Director Jesse Register said officials believe using the reserves again would be illegal. "We've pretty much hit the wall," Register told Dean. Register said he and his staff started the budget process with one "major assumption": that they wouldn't allow the money going to schools in the form of teacher, principal and assistant principal compensation to be cut. The district eliminated 150 teaching positions a year ago and expects to add about 1,700 students in August. Dean, who has consistently called education his top priority, said he was pleased that Register and the school board had worked to preserve classroom instruction. But protesters gathered outside the Metro Courthouse an hour before the hearing to voice their displeasure at the district's plan to eliminate the jobs of more than 600 janitors and groundskeepers, whose work would be outsourced to a private company. The move is expected to save about $5 million. Even full funding of the school board's budget request wouldn't restore those jobs, which are part of nearly $11 million in cuts the board agreed to in a 5-4 vote. Register has said the district would save on benefits, and existing employees would be given hiring preference once the private contractor is selected. Union tries to save jobs Doug Collier, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 205, urged the crowd of about 60 people to put pressure on Dean and the Metro Council to save the jobs. Some people wore stickers on their shirts that said "No Privatization." "If we forget it, they're going to forget us," Collier said. "You can bank on that." Dean noted in a session with reporters that he has no say in how the school district spends its money. He can only recommend the amount it should receive. The mayor must submit an operating budget proposal to the council by May 1. The council must approve the recommendation or come up with an alternative by the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.

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