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$974 million budget approved for cash-strapped Shelby County Schools

The Board of Education for Shelby County Schools approved a $974 million budget Tuesday that will slash $125 million in spending while increasing teacher pay and bolstering school reform efforts in Tennessee’s largest public school district.

“We really are struggling to make the most out of what we have,” Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said before the unanimous vote in Memphis.

The deficit is the result of lower per-pupil state funding due to an anticipated enrollment decline of more than 2,000 students; a decrease in tax revenue; and increased pension fund obligations. Funding from the federal Race to the Top grant and a $90 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also will be depleted at the end of this school year.

The budget cuts will result in the loss of 482 positions and the outsourcing of services such as school maintenance. At the same time, the district will keep the majority of its 8,000 teachers, who will all receive step pay increases, and invest another $7 million in its school turnaround efforts. To stave off more cuts, the district also will pull $25 million from its savings account.

The spending plan now goes to the Shelby County Commission, which is expected to vote on funding the school budget in the coming month, as well as budget proposals submitted by six suburban municipal school systems. In addition, Shelby County Schools will ask the commission for an extra $14 million to fund 15 needs such as reading intervention teachers, computers for online testing next school year, and a marketing specialist to promote the district to parents.

“I think the board will be in lockstep in making the case to the County Commission why these additional 15 items will be the lynchpin to bringing more students to our district,” said board member Kevin Woods. “Those are the type of things parents want to hear — to say, ‘Yes, I’m going to invest in Shelby County Schools.'”

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson


As part of its budget cuts and enrollment adjustments, the board voted last month to close three schools and pull hundreds of students from three other struggling schools that are gradually being taken over by the Achievement School District (ASD), the state’s school turnaround district. Those students were moved to schools in the local district’s Innovation Zone, a cluster of schools given special flexibilities from state law.

In the state budget approved last week by the Tennessee legislature, the district received an additional $20 million but also $4 million in cuts to special education, prompting district administrators to scramble to build some positions back into the budget and ultimately frustrating some board members.

“I think you’ve made the tough cuts,” board member Chris Caldwell told Hopson. “Most districts haven’t done the cutting you have. But I think we need to work on the process here.”

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

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