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Kyle Kurlick

Hopson previews staff cuts, reviews school closings and budget changes for 2014-15

Shelby County Schools is preparing to lay off hundreds of teachers and central office staff in preparation for the “demerger” next year, when thousands of students and hundreds of teachers are likely to leave to attend new suburban school districts near Memphis.

The district’s proposed 2014-15 budget is $227 million less than the current year’s budget, superintendent Dorsey Hopson II said at a press meeting on Wednesday. The district released its draft budget on Monday, and the board has its first meeting regarding the plans this Friday. Hopson said the district would hold a series of meetings over the next four-to-six weeks.

Last year the district laid off some 2,000 people in preparation for the historic merger of the suburban Shelby County school system and the Memphis City school system. This year it is responding to plans to form new school systems in six Memphis suburbs.

The district’s budget shows plans to employ some 7,000 teachers next year. There are 9,500 teachers and instructional staff in the 140,000-student Shelby County Schools this year. The district is anticipating enrolling approximately 117,000 students next year. Hopson said that the district is likely to cut 250 teaching positions, and the rest will likely go to work for the municipal school districts.

But, he said, “every year we hire around 1,100 teachers or so. The most effective teachers will have ample opportunity for employment.”

Meanwhile, he said, every department in the district’s central office is being asked to propose 20 percent’s worth of cuts and to tie each staff members’ position to the district’s strategic plan.

“While our hearts go out to all, our overall goal is to make sure we keep cuts as far away from (the) classroom as possible,” he said. 

The district’s staffing formula is likely to also change this year, which might slightly increase class size. Hopson said any change would be minor – raising the student-to-teacher ratio from 26 t0 1 to 27 to 1, for instance. 

Previously, legacy Shelby County Schools had a staffing formula that was slightly “richer” – it had more teachers per student – while legacy Memphis City’s was “leaner” – it had fewer teachers per student. Hopson said that while this year’s formula was closer to Shelby County’s, next year’s staffing formula will likely be in between the two. There are state laws that prevent class size from getting too big.  

The budget includes an additional $1 million for outsourced cleaning services. The cleanliness of the district’s schools with a new contractor this year has been a concern, but Hopson said that there had not been enough money in the budget to bring in extra staff where necessary.

The district will also shift to entirely outsourcing busing and transportation for next year. Its bus fleet, estimated to be worth about $4 million, will likely be purchased by whichever contractor is hired to provide transportation, Hopson said. The new municipal districts might also purchase some of the district’s buses.

The district may also have to cut 40 preschool classrooms. Shelby County Schools considered closing 80 preschool classes before this school year, but was able to salvage 40. Those 40 are now on the chopping block again. “We have to determine as a city how to fund pre-K,” Hopson said.

Plans to close schools in Memphis next year also came up in Wednesday’s conversation. Hopson said that the budget includes an $8.5 million investment in technology, most of which will go to schools receiving students from ten closed schools. Those closed schools will also likely get another administrator to help with the transition, he said. 

The district plans to ask the county commission for funds for a new building in the Westhaven area to replace a school building that’s closed.

Hopson said that the district is also likely to request funds for a new building in the southeastern part of town and near Bartlett. Board chair Kevin Woods said he is hopeful that the funds will come through, as this is the last year the County Commission will be able to provide capital funds for one district without having to provide some funds for every other district. The commission is required to fund capital improvements proportionately amongst the districts in Shelby County.  

Board president Woods rejected a suggestion from a reporter that the plans for new municipal districts mean the current Shelby County system has seen no forward progress this year. “Anyone who thinks we’ve accomplished nothing simply because the municipalities have chosen their path – I take offense…We hope people continue to see us as a work in progress,” he said.

Hopson said that Shelby County Schools is planning conservatively, assuming it will lose many students to municipal districts. “If we get more students, we can go from there.”