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Flurry of budget changes would raise salaries, change benefits for Memphis teachers

Board members for Shelby County Schools complete a final budget review on Wednesday.
Board members for Shelby County Schools complete a final budget review on Wednesday.
Laura Faith Kebede

An updated proposed budget for Shelby County Schools gives teachers a 3 percent pay raise, changes health insurance plans for employees, and increases retirees’ share of medical costs from 30 to 50 percent.

The proposed $954 million spending plan also restores funding to the early grades of the CLUE program for gifted students, as well as reading coaches and an extra hour of instruction to schools within the Innovation Zone, while leaving the guidance counselor-to-student ratio the same as this year.

The changes were presented Wednesday to school board members, who are scheduled to vote next Monday on a final budget that will be presented May 25 to the Shelby County Commission.

To fund the updated budget, district leaders are recommending that the school board ask the commission for an additional $35 million, even though commissioners already have said that’s not likely to happen.

Administrators said the district will get $5 million more in state funding than expected next school year, but is still more than $27 million short of meeting a budget that already includes about $45 million in cuts. But to have enough unrestricted revenue to cover the gap, Chief Financial Officer Lin Johnson said the district must ask for $35 million from the commission, which is the district’s local funding agent.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson expressed optimism about the request due to the district’s academic gains, though it’s likely to be a heavy lift. In his proposed budget, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell has included $8.7 million in additional education funding for the county’s seven districts, of which Shelby County Schools would receive about 78 percent.

“I think we’ve done a good job making a case,” Hopson said at the close of the board’s final budget review. “Given our successes, we hope the commission will find it wise to invest in it.”

Hopson said he also has asked Memphis City Council to match a $10 million philanthropic gift to the iZone, announced last fall.

The district’s spending plan includes $10.8 million in unrestricted state money toward a 3 percent pay increase for teachers.

Administrators say they hope to save about $10 million by switching to an employee health insurance plan that closely resembles the plan for Shelby County government employees. Premiums for active employees would decrease slightly, but deductibles would double in some cases, said human resources chief Trinette Small.

For retirees, the proposed increased share of medical costs is similar to a change proposed last year except that plan also excluded coverage for spouses of retirees.

Board Chairwoman Teresa Jones acknowledged that “there will not be applauses for this recommendation,” since retirees are on a fixed income.

Administrators said they will meet this week with union representatives to discuss the impact of the proposed changes. Yvonne Acey, president-elect of Shelby County’s Retired Teachers Association, said Wednesday evening that she had not been notified about such a meeting but would gladly participate.

District leaders said the updated budget also includes cutting 189 positions, of which only 61 are currently filled, from the district’s central office. However, the total number of people districtwide who would lose their jobs is one of numerous questions that remain.

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