Final address

Mayor calls for more science, early education in Memphis-area schools

PHOTO: Brad Vest/The Commercial Appeal
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell gives his last State of the County address at Clayborn Temple in downtown Memphis.

The outgoing county mayor who oversees school funding in Memphis called Tuesday for his successor to invest more in pre-school and classes that focus on science, math, and technology.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said both needs should be prioritized if the county that includes one of the nation’s most impoverished cities is to land more high-wage jobs and keep its young people out of prison.

In his last State of the County address, the two-term Republican mayor and former sheriff touted the county’s annual contribution to preschool classrooms that reached $3 million in recent years. But, he said, it’s still not enough, especially as the expiration approaches of a $70 million federal grant paying for pre-K classrooms in Shelby County and Nashville.

“Failure to invest in proven prevention programs will result in short-term quick fixes with little lasting value,” he told members of the Rotary Club of Memphis. “Head Start, pre-kindergarten, and K-12 education, along with intervention initiatives like Second Chance and re-entry programs, are proven successes worthy of community support.”

Luttrell’s office presents an education budget for county commissioners’ approval every year. He has advocated aggressively for Shelby County Schools to pay down its retiree benefits obligation and for more state funding for local education, but he did not address either issue on Tuesday.

Shelby County’s education landscape has experienced major changes since Luttrell was elected county mayor in 2010. A few months after his election, the board of Memphis City Schools voted to give up its charter in response to the likelihood of the county system siphoning off its tax dollars to fund suburban schools. That left Shelby County government as basically the sole funding agent for local education. Also, the state-run Achievement School District began taking over Memphis schools in 2012, further complicating the distribution of money for schools. And just a year after the merger, the county splintered into seven school systems.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell

Increasing access to early childhood education and certification in science and technology related careers has been a priority for Shelby County Schools this year. The district is preparing a proposal to revamp its career and technical education programs to attract more students and has worked with City Council and child care nonprofit Porter-Leath toward creating a spot for every child to attend preschool.

Luttrell noted that Shelby County Schools, which is slightly bigger than the former city district, has one of the highest funding rates per student in Tennessee, yet has many of the state’s worst performing schools.

“To be clear, this is not an indictment or the sole responsibility of Shelby County Schools. We all bear responsibility as parents, teachers, elected officials, as taxpayers, as the faith-based community,” he said. “It is with the cornerstone of a good, quality education that we begin to turn the tide in those areas of crime, poverty, and poor population health.”

Without that foundation, he said, more students will filter into the county’s juvenile justice system that’s now under federal oversight. (Luttrell has attempted to end federal monitoring before all goals are met.)

“The oversimplified, but not untrue, explanation is that if we do not fund schools we must fund prisons,” he said. “Let’s keep innovating and finding opportunities to keep our kids in school, out of the justice system, and towards a better future.”

Luttrell’s term expires in August. Attending his final address were two candidates to replace him: county trustee David Lenoir and county commissioner Terry Roland.

You can read Luttrell’s full remarks below:

School Finance

Why some IPS schools are facing big budget cuts, and others are mostly spared from the pain

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
School 107 is expected to lose about $230,000 next year, one of the larger cuts in the district.

At campuses across Indianapolis Public Schools, principals are grappling with a painful prospect: cutting hundreds of thousands of dollars from their school budgets. And that may be just the beginning.

The district is looking to cut about $21 million from its $269 million general fund budget for 2018-19, including about $8.9 million that will come from budgets for schools and certified staff such as teachers, according to a preliminary budget document. Officials declined to give school-by-school breakdowns until they are finalized later this summer.

The district initially planned to fill its budget gap by asking voters for nearly $1 billion in extra funding in May, but after the proposal received little support, the board first shrunk and then delayed the request. The cuts that begin next year could continue if the state’s largest district isn’t able to find other savings or win voter support for a referendum to increase taxes and school funding in November.

“We have the hope of a referendum,” said Weston Young, the district’s chief financial manager.

Chalkbeat has the details on what types of schools are expected to lose the most, what schools might cut, and what this means for the future of the district.

Big schools — including high schools — are taking the brunt of the cuts.

When it comes to cutting spending, large schools are carrying more of the burden, according to the preliminary documents. That includes middle and high schools, as well as some elementary schools. At some of the district’s smallest campuses, however, officials say budgets are already too lean for significant cuts.

Indianapolis Public Schools sends money to schools using a formula known as student-based allocation, which gives them funding based on how many students they enroll and student needs. But every school also has a baseline amount of money district officials believe they need to operate.

Small schools that serve wide grade spans, which might only have one class at each grade level, often get extra money to be sure they reach the minimum. In contrast, large campuses typically get enough from the per student formula to be above baseline. On a basic level, the district budget is based around the idea that it costs less per child to educate students in large, efficient schools.

Because of that approach, campuses that were already at minimum funding levels won’t see significant cuts, Young said. On the flip side, however, bigger campuses are shouldering a larger share of the cuts.

That could be bad news for the four high schools that will remain open in the fall. The schools will be among the largest campuses in the district, and they are expected to face significant cuts.

Last month, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee told Chalkbeat that cuts would not damage the effort to revamp high schools because, in addition to baseline funding, the schools will have donations from private partners such as Salesforce.

“Obviously, we won’t have all the resources that we’d like to have,” he said, “but we will be in a good position come August of 2018.”

Magnet schools and career and technical education get extra money — and extra cuts.

On top of their regular budgets, choice programs, such as Montessori, International Baccalaureate, and career and technical education, receive millions of extra dollars each year. That spending is also on the chopping block as the district cuts costs.

But because the district had already planned spending on those programs and some areas are easier to reduce than others, cuts won’t be spread evenly, said Aisha Humphries, director of budget and strategy for the district. In Montessori schools, for example, instructional assistants are integral to the model, she said. In order to cut that, the district would have to change the school model.

“When you do budget cuts, it may be that we want to cut equally and make everybody feel the pain equally,” Humphries said, “but you may not be able to do that.”

But there are other areas where the district can more easily cut back, Humphries said, such as by reducing the number of foreign languages offered in middle school.

Schools are giving up technology, teachers, and other staff.

As the district cuts budgets, principals ultimately decide what painful trade offs to make. Under the new budgeting approach the district rolled out this year, principals are given a set amount of money, and they have control over how they spend most it. If a principal wants to make class sizes slightly larger to pay for a school social worker, for example, they can. When it comes to budget cuts, the approach is the same.

“They are still in the driver’s seat,” Young said.

When schools got budgets earlier this year, they were built on the assumption that the district would win the May referendum. But principals knew that additional funding might not come through, and some planned for potential cuts when they created their budgets, Young said.

When principal Jeremy Baugh learned School 107 is expected to lose about $230,000 next year, he already had some potential cuts in mind. The school will cut back on new technology, instructional supplies, and professional development. Baugh also won’t go through with his plan to hire two new educators.

School 107, which enrolls just over 600 students, is expected to have one of the larger budget cuts in the district. But in part because the school is growing and will get more money for those new students, he doesn’t expect to cut current staff.

“We didn’t have to make significant cuts that were impacting staff right now,” Baugh said. “So we felt pretty lucky.”

School Finance

How much are Indianapolis teachers paid? Here are the highest and lowest paid districts in the city

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

As teachers across the country rally for more education funding and higher salaries, policymakers and the public are paying renewed attention to how much educators are paid.

Nationwide, stagnant teacher pay coupled with plentiful well-paying openings in other fields means that it’s even harder for principals and administrators to fill open positions. For some teachers, low pay is one reason they leave the classroom altogether, whether to become administrators or find another career.

In Indiana, cash-strapped districts often struggle to pay for raises even for their current staff — making it difficult to retain teachers. Educators in Indianapolis have lots of schools to choose from, and teachers can increase their pay by heading to nearby districts.

Educators in Indiana school districts made an average of about $48,743 last year, according to the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board. Pay is higher in districts in the state’s capitol, but it varies widely, with educators in the lowest paying district earning about $11,000 less on average than teachers in the top paid district. (The board only collects data on districts with teachers unions so it does not include average pay for teachers in charter schools.)

When teachers with particularly high demand skills switch jobs, they can also boost their earning by moving higher on the pay scale.

Average teacher pay in Marion County 2016-17

Source: Indiana Education Employment Relations Board collective bargaining report. (Image by Sam Park)

One reason why average pay might be higher in some districts than others is because the pay scale is higher. Starting pay in Beech Grove Schools, for example, is $38,000 per year. In Speedway Schools, a district with consistently high pay, teachers earn a minimum of $44,252.

Minimum teacher pay in Marion County 2016-17

Source: Indiana Education Employment Relations Board collective bargaining report. (Image by Sam Park)

The gap is even wider for experienced educators. In Indianapolis Public Schools, the pay scale sets the maximum salary at $72,740. That’s almost $14,000 less than the max pay for teachers in Speedway — $86,702. (Some teachers may earn more because they are still paid based on older pay scales with higher caps.)

Maximum teacher pay in Marion County 2016-17

Source: Indiana Education Employment Relations Board collective bargaining report. (Image by Sam Park)

But there’s another reason why some districts have lower average pay than others — they have more inexperienced teachers. Both Beech Grove and Indianapolis Public Schools have higher floors and ceiling for pay then they did in 2013-2014. Nonetheless, the average pay in those districts has declined, likely because they have more inexperienced teachers with lower salaries.

This year, both districts have relatively high numbers of teachers in their first year, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education. In Indianapolis Public Schools, nearly 10 percent of certified educators are new to the classroom. In both Beech Grove and Warren Township Schools, about 7 percent of educators are new.