Budget forecast

Shelby County Schools faces $72 million shortfall next school year, Hopson says

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has led Tennessee's largest school district since 2013 and has been challenged in 2017 by allegations of grade tampering in some Shelby County schools.

Only months after shepherding in $125 million in budget cuts for the current fiscal year, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson is warning district officials that lean times and difficult decisions await Tennessee’s largest school system again during the next year.

In a presentation before the school board Tuesday evening, Hopson outlined the district’s financial forecast for 2016-17, anticipating a $72 million shortfall.

Among the challenges:

  • A shortfall in per-pupil funding under the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP) due to a decrease in enrollment as the state-run Achievement School District continues to expand in Memphis;
  • Cost of personnel benefits is expected to increase another $7 million;
  • The depletion of the $90 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, awarded beginning in 2009 to address teacher effectiveness.

“I don’t want to sound an alarm bell,” Hopson said, “but it just shows the work we have to do to get to where we need to be.”

Last spring, the school board approved $125 million in budget cuts to offset shrinking enrollment, decreasing tax revenue and increasing pension fund obligations, among other things.

Budget woes have plagued the district since its creation in 2013 with the merger of Memphis City Schools and legacy Shelby County Schools. Administrators have responded by closing 17 schools over the last three years, outsourcing services such as bus transportation and custodial work, and reducing its workforce of teachers and central office staff.

Hopson has said he’s tried to keep the cuts from reaching the classroom level, but that it’s getting harder and harder.

“It just puts such a burden on particularly our teachers and parents when we have to figure out how we’re going to cut $50, $60, $70 million,” Hopson told the board.

Less than four months into the current fiscal year, the district faces more immediate challenges, though.

The superintendent expects a $7.9 million shortfall in BEP funding for 2015-16, a decrease that Hopson attributes to the ASD’s absorption of students previously with Shelby County Schools. Under state law, the ASD can take over schools in the bottom 5 percent of the state’s schools in terms of academic performance, most of which are located in Memphis. This school year, Shelby County Schools’ enrollment of 93,501 is 1,100 less than projected. The ASD already operates 27 schools in Memphis and has proposed taking over six more next year. ASD officials have said state intervention is necessary to address chronic academic underperformance.

Hopson said Shelby County Schools also needs this year an additional $5.5 million to help cover a 2 percent cost-of-living increase for the district’s 8,000 teachers, after having already invested in step-increases for teacher pay for the same amount. Additionally, the district still must address reductions needed to its swelling $1.5 billion liability for employee retirement benefits.

While the cuts ahead are challenging, Hopson reminded the board that the district has a blueprint to help guide its choices. Spending is tied to five priority areas under its Destination 2025 vision plan:

  • Strengthening early literacy
  • Increasing support to the district’s priority schools and improving post-secondary readiness
  • Developing teachers and central office staff to drive student success
  • Expanding high-quality school options
  • Mobilizing family and community partners

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”