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Shelby County government building in downtown Memphis.

Shelby County government building in downtown Memphis.

Memphis schools budget heads to county leaders for approval

A $1 billion budget for Shelby County Schools that includes a 3 percent raise for all teachers and raising the district’s minimum wage to $15 per hour is heading to county leaders for the next step in approval.

School board members unanimously approved the 2018-19 general budget during their regular meeting Tuesday. District leaders are scheduled to present the budget to the Shelby County Commission on Wednesday morning.

District leaders plan to ask commissioners for about $13 million from the county’s expected surplus to add services for Memphis students, most of whom live in poverty. But early budget numbers from the county indicate an $8 million boost to education funding, of which $6 million would go to Shelby County Schools. The rest would be split between the county’s other six school systems.

Included in the $12.7 million ask to county commissioners is
  • Included in the $12.7 million ask to county commissioners is:$2.1 million for 30 more school resource officers$8 million for an overhaul on workforce training classes and more advanced courses$2.6 million for reading specialists in middle and high schools

The budget, up from $985 million last year, also includes more behavior specialists, school resource officers, and school counselors, along with a controversial revamp of workforce training classes that narrows the focus to higher paying and regional in-demand jobs.

Read more: Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

Shelby County Schools plans to use $49 million of its savings to make those investments happen (up from $36 million a month ago). In recent years, county commissioners and school board members have urged district administrators to spend more money from its reserves.

Board members said Lin Johnson, the district’s chief of finance, could do more to reroute savings to the classroom. Board member Kevin Woods took issue Tuesday with a proposal to ask for $6 million more than the county allocated.

“It’s really a hard sell when you just showed me your bank account,” Woods said. “How do you make the case for the additional $6 million when you have $80 million in savings?”

Johnson clarified that the district’s savings account, which had $88 million at the beginning of the school year, would shrink by about $20 million under the budget proposal because some of the unused reserves from this year would roll over to the new budget. He cautioned against using that money for recurring costs since those funds wouldn’t be guaranteed next year.

“We need to sustain the decisions the board has made as far as our financial sustainability and we see this ask to the county as, one, a contribution to that sustainability and backing the academic programming currently,” Johnson said.

This is the second year that Shelby County Schools did not propose major cuts to fill a funding gap.