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The largest budget ask ever made by Memphis schools — $2.19 billion — includes teacher raises and building renovations

Students raise their hands in a classroom at Gardenview Elementary School in Memphis in this file photo from May 2019.
Shelby County Schools outlined more literacy programs, five new prekindergarten classrooms, and higher teachers salaries in its $2.19 billion proposed budget.
Karen Pulfer Focht for Chalkbeat

Shelby County Schools board members unanimously approved a proposed budget of $2.19 billion Tuesday night, an increase of nearly 60 percent over last year.

Highlights of this year’s budget include five additional prekindergarten classes throughout the district, more money for custodial services, new literacy programs, money for proposed new schools and renovations, and raises for certified and noncertified employees.

The starting salary for teachers will increase about 7% from $43,000 to $45,965, and the maximum salary will rise about 16% from $73,000 to $84,445. The new max salary will raise the salary cap on teachers who have graduate degrees and seniority.

Non-certified employees would get a 2% raise. In addition, 587 part-time employees will be bumped up to a living wage of at least $15 an hour. Currently all full-time SCS employees make at least $15 an hour.

The proposed budget, up from $1.37 billion in fiscal year 2021, is the district’s largest in history, largely due to an influx of federal stimulus dollars and a request for $55 million from the Shelby County Commission for school construction and renovations. The district promises about 60 changes to dozens of campuses across Memphis and Shelby County if it can secure the 10-year pledge for $55 million a year from the commission. The plan is called Reimagining 901.

“We’re excited about having a balanced budget and going before the commission tomorrow with a balanced budget,” said board member Shante Avant following the meeting. “We hope that our county commissioners and community will join with us as we embark on Reimagining 901.”

The commission is tasked with reviewing the budget because it funds a significant portion of it.

During the preliminary budget presentation by district leaders to the commission in April, County Commissioner Edmund Ford, Jr. said about 3,100 part-time SCS employees don’t make a living wage, putting the district out of line with the commitment made by Shelby County and Memphis governments.

When asked last week for an updated total on the number of part-time employees still making less than $15 an hour, Memphis district officials did not immediately respond.

Commissioners will have a chance to revisit the issue of a living wage for all part-time employees and the district’s capital improvement request on Wednesday when the district goes back before the commission. District leaders want to use the funds to build new schools, such as a new high school in southeast Memphis, and renovate and expand existing schools, such as building an addition to White Station High School.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris has proposed giving the district $23.4 million for construction and renovations, or $31.6 million less than requested.

School board member Kevin Woods said that the budget process among district staff and board members has been “a fairly smooth process,” but he noted the challenge ahead.

“I’m excited to go before the County this week with a structurally balanced budget, but I do think that we have to still lean in on the capital investments,” he said. “We’re asking them to do more than they have done in the past, but I don’t think we let up.”

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