Shelby County Schools

Shelby County Schools’ teachers anxious about salaries, insurance cuts in budget proposal

Several Shelby County teachers and their advocates plan to protest what they say will amount to cuts to pay and benefits in the district’s 2014-15 budget proposal at Tuesday’s board meeting.

It’s unclear in the district’s budget how much individual teacher pay will be cut, but advocates claim that the district is considering spending 22 percent less on teacher pay and 23 percent less on benefits next year. That compares to a 19 percent overall drop in budget cuts, advocates claim.

Trinette Small, the SCS Director of Employee Services, refuted the advocacy group’s claims in an e-mail, saying that the district is actually considering increasing its contribution to employee health insurance, but the proposal has not yet been finalized.

While the district’s proposed contribution to employee insurance benefits is higher than the current 63 percent, it is still lower than the 70 percent that the district contributed in prior years, advocates argue.

Small added that the district is not considering a 22 percent budget cut to teacher salaries.  Whether salaries will be cut at all has not yet been determined, she said.

In SCS’s budget proposal on page 106, the current spending of salaries is more than $720 million for the current school year.  In the proposed 2014-15 budget, salary expenditures drop to $558 million.   Benefits will be reduced from $232 million to $178 million in the proposed budget.  The budget is a projection of the spending and revenue based on the loss of teachers and students to the six new municipal school districts, the Achievement School District and charter schools.  Shelby County is also closing nine schools at the end of the 2013-14 academic year, which is the largest number of building closures in the area’s history.

In SCS’s proposed budget, every department has been asked to make reductions.  The district’s budget, according to administrators, has been reduced from $1.1 billion to $961 million.  Many parents and teachers have spoken out recently against cuts to the district’s world language courses in the elementary and middle schools. There will also be  dramatic cuts to the alternative schools program.

Memphis-Shelby County Education Association Executive Director Ken Foster said teacher morale in the district is low due to concerns over working conditions and compensation.

During the board’s March meeting, members of the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association distributed a list of concerns about the proposed budget such as a $20.1 million cut in office supplies and the district funding “only a portion” of textbook purchases.

Advocates and education leaders are saying how the budget shapes up could determine whether SCS attracts quality teachers to the district.

Teachers did not receive a cost of living or step pay increase last year.  If the 2014-15 budget does not include an increase, it would be the second consecutive time.

“It’s been our position that people delivering the academics should receive something,” Foster said.

Small said SCS is working with various stakeholder groups to design a new Strategic Compensation and Career Pathway system, a $15.6 million program to put toward teacher incentives and rewards.

“The district plans to use 2014-15 as a transition year where we prepare for a shift to a compensation system that better recognizes the hard work of our many great teachers and attracts and retains the best talent,” Small said.  “The district is currently reformulating plans on teacher pay for the 2014-15 due to the State of Tennessee’s recent decision to eliminate the funding for teacher pay increases.”

SCS will hold the called meeting  at 160 S. Hollywood Street in Memphis immediately following the work session, which begins at 5:30 p.m.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.