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Shelby County Schools begin budget process anticipating more cuts

Hundreds of teachers attend the Shelby County School Board meeting in January to express concern about the district's performance-based pay plan.
Hundreds of teachers attend the Shelby County School Board meeting in January to express concern about the district's performance-based pay plan.
Daarel Burnette II

Shelby County Schools on Wednesday starts the arduous process of cutting another $25 million from its $1.5 billion budget.

In the coming months, the board will decide what services, employees and facilities to cut.

The beleaguered district is trying to offset decreased funding levels due to the loss of several thousand students to charter schools and six new suburban municipal school districts. Local property tax revenue also has slumped in recent years under the weight of the recent recession.

During a planned three-hour retreat with school board members on Wednesday, district administrators will present their proposal for what to cut and why. The budget eventually must be approved by both the board and the Shelby County Commission which – based on student population – splits revenue among the county’s largest district and the six smaller school systems.

Included in the budget plan will be a dramatic shift in how the district compensates its 7,000 teachers. In prior years, teachers have been awarded based on years of service and number of academic degrees. Administrators have proposed a new compensation plan in which teacher pay is tied partly to their performance in the classroom. The plan also reflects the closure of two schools and enrollment shifts at three other schools.

The 2015-16 budget process begins as the district ends one funding quarrel with local officials and begins another funding quarrel with the state.

In January, the district reached a $41 million settlement with the Memphis City Council over a school funding dispute that began in 2008 before the merger of Memphis City Schools with Shelby County Schools.

In February, the board voted to explore whether to take the state to court for millions of dollars in underfunding over the years. In addition to reviewing the proposed budget on Wednesday, the board is scheduled to vote on hiring an attorney to pursue that matter.

The district spent roughly $11,600 per student in 2013-14 after subtracting debt and capital payments, according to a recent study. The district gets about 38 percent of its revenue from local property and sales taxes, 41 percent from the state, and another 20 percent from the federal government. The rest comes from grants.

The study, conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Education Commission of the States, compared the budget of Philadelphia’s schools with districts of comparable size and demographics. Of the 11 districts studied, Shelby County ranked ninth in student spending.

Contact Daarel Burnette II at dburnette@chalkbeat.org or (901) 260-3705.

Follow us on Twitter: @Daarel, @chalkbeattn.

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