Money time

A proposed budget for Memphis schools comes out this week. Here’s what we know so far.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede

Shelby County Schools’ next budget will include teacher and hourly employee raises, more school resource officers, and additional behavior specialists, based on early conversations among Memphis school leaders.

It will also include money to expand school improvement efforts aimed at keeping low-performing schools out of the state’s reach.

And to do it all, the Memphis district will need to take at least $15 million out of its reserves, according to preliminary numbers. District administrators are scheduled to present a proposed budget for the 2018-19 school year to school board members 4 p.m. Wednesday.

From the archives: Why Shelby County Schools has $84 million sitting in a savings account

The budget so far doesn’t include any major new initiatives as the district circles its wagons to strengthen strategies already in place.

Last year, the Memphis district for the first time since the consolidated district was created in 2013 started its budget-setting process in the black after years of severe cuts. That budget included a raise for high-performing teachers, a $300,000 boost to struggling schools, and adding two schools to the district’s Innovation Zone for its lowest performing schools.

Here’s what we know so far about what has been discussed to include in the 2018-19 budget:

Teacher and hourly employee raises: Calling on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., who came to Memphis 50 years ago on behalf of public workers battling low wages, Hopson announced last month all hourly full-time employees would make at least $15 per hour under his budget. That would cost about $2.4 million and impact about 1,200 employees such as warehouse workers, teaching assistants, office assistants, and cafeteria workers.

Hopson also said Monday the budget would include money for teacher raises for the third straight year. About 90 percent of teachers are considered high-performing and would be eligible for pay increases.

More school resource officers: Measures to increase school safety have been at the forefront following a fatal school shooting in Florida that has sparked lots of student activism. In the midst of countywide task force on school safety, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson told WMC he wanted to add more law enforcement officers in schools. Just how many and to which schools has not been released.

Overhaul career and technical education: As part of the state’s shift to not only prepare students for college, but also directly enter the workforce, Shelby County Schools is planning more classes and certifications focused on hot career fields like health care and information technology.

Behavior specialists: One of the wish list items board members had was to expand the district’s 19-member team that works with students to get to the “why” behind their misbehavior and prevent suspensions. The team so far has found success in reducing suspensions and represents one of many positions slowly being brought back from previous budget cuts.

Add American Way Middle to the iZone: The long-struggling school has been the center of controversy with the Tennessee Department of Education as the state rolled out its first school improvement plan under its new accountability model. It’s unclear, however, if the move to the iZone, which typically costs about $600,000, will save it from state takeover in 2019.

Expand the Whitehaven Empowerment Zone: Another initiative aimed at staving off state intervention is set to grow by five schools: Geeter Middle, Manor Lake Elementary, Whitehaven Elementary, Oakshire Elementary, Robert R. Church Elementary, and John P. Freeman Elementary. The move reaches beyond the original scope of the program to include schools outside of Whitehaven High School’s feeder pattern.

Continue funding “critical focus schools”: This school year was the first under Hopson’s plan to invest in 19 struggling schools instead of just closing them. Antonio Burt, an assistant superintendent over low-performing schools, said last month plans on how much money will be allocated to the initiative are still being determined.

The public can hear more about the budget during the board’s work session Tuesday, April 17. The school board is expected to vote Tuesday, April 24 when there will also be a public comment period. The budget would then go to the local funding body, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, for approval.

taking action

Denver to dismiss students early as teachers rally for more school funding

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
Colorado educators rallied outside the State Capitol on April 16, 2018. More rallies are planned for next week. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

The Denver school district will cut short the school day on April 27 after the local teachers union announced its members would join an afternoon rally at the Colorado Capitol to advocate for more state education funding.

District-run schools will have an “early-release” day with students being dismissed sometime between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Denver Public Schools spokeswoman Jessie Smiley said. Exact dismissal times will depend on a school’s transportation schedule, she said.

Innovation schools, which are district-run schools with additional autonomy, can opt out of the early dismissal and operate on a normal schedule, according to a letter from Superintendent Tom Boasberg that explains why the district is declaring an early-release day. Denver Public Schools is the largest school district in the state, with 92,600 students.

Several charter schools also plan to dismiss students early so teachers can participate in the rally. They include schools in the district’s two biggest homegrown charter networks, DSST and STRIVE Prep, according to officials from those networks.

Other Colorado school districts have canceled school for a whole day. Colorado has among the lowest level of school funding in the country, and a recent study ranked the state last for the competitiveness of its teacher salaries.

Read Boasberg’s letter in full below.

Dear DPS Community,

As we have been communicating with you, DPS has been working extraordinarily hard and in partnership with superintendents across the state to press our state government to restore education funding to our schools, and ensure our students and our educators receive the supports and compensation they deserve.

In Colorado, the state funds education at an average of $2,500 per student less than the national average. That is short-sighted and wrong. Our state needs to dramatically increase our investment in education, and all of our voices play a vital role in this effort.

The statewide teachers association, the Colorado Education Association, is planning a statewide rally of educators on Friday, April 27 to advocate for greater state funding and expects that many of our teachers will participate. As such, we’ve been working with our teachers on a plan that will have as minimal impact as possible on our students and families

Given the number of teachers expected to participate in CEA’s event that afternoon, we have decided to schedule an early release day for all district-managed schools on Friday, April 27. Innovation schools can opt out of the early release schedule and decide to operate on a normal schedule. We felt it was important to get a decision on this as early as possible so schools and families can plan ahead.

The planned early release will not impact student meals. We are committed to feeding every child every day, so bagged lunches will be available for every student on April 27.

Also, the planned early release day will not impact the 34th Annual Shakespeare Festival. The festival will follow its regular schedule. Transportation will be provided to students who go back to school after the celebration.

We are working with Transportation Services to provide accurate information about transportation for Friday, April 27. We will share this information as soon as it’s available.

We are communicating with school leaders and families to provide you with answers to your questions about your school’s schedule, transportation, and after-school activities. Please look for a detailed communication from your student’s principal by the end of the day Thursday, April 19.

As in every case, our students’ safety is our top priority, and we will make necessary revisions to these plans to prioritize their well-being. Thank you for your support of our educators and your partnership in our students’ education.


Still walking

Colorado teachers plan more walkouts, and Jeffco canceled classes one day next week

Colorado teachers march around the state Capitol Monday, April 16, to call for more school funding and to protect their retirement benefits. (Erica Meltzer/Chalkbeat)

Teachers from Colorado’s two largest school districts are planning back-to-back walkouts next week to call for more funding for education – and they could be joined by other districts.

Jeffco Public Schools canceled classes for April 26, next Thursday, after many teachers there said they plan to go to the Capitol, while the union representing Denver classroom teachers said they plan to walk out midday April 27, next Friday, to rally at the Capitol early in the afternoon.

In a press release, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association said Denver teachers would be leading a statewide walkout. Corey Kern, the union’s deputy executive director, said he’s not sure yet how many other districts will be represented.

The announcements come after hundreds of teachers marched at the Capitol during a day of action Monday to protect their retirement benefits and call for more school funding. Enough teachers left the suburban Englewood district that classes were canceled there.

Colorado consistently ranks in the bottom tier for school funding and teacher pay, though there is considerable variation around the state. A recent study ranked Colorado last for the competitiveness of its teacher salaries, and nearly half the state’s districts are now on four-day weeks. The 2018-19 budget takes a big step toward restoring money cut during the Great Recession, but the state is still holding back $672 million from what it would have spent on K-12 education if it complied with constitutional requirements to increase per-pupil spending at least by inflation each year.

The wave of teacher activism reflects a national movement that has seen strikes, walkouts, and marches in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Kentucky. Unlike other states, lawmakers here can’t raise taxes to send more money to schools or approve teacher raises on their own. Voters would need to approve more money, and local school boards would need to increase salaries.

Teachers interviewed at Monday’s march said they recognize the fiscal constraints in Colorado, but they’re also inspired by the actions of their colleagues in more conservative states.

Many teachers also said they fear that reductions in retirement benefits could lead to an exodus of younger teachers, further squeezing a profession that struggles to recruit new workers and suffers from high turnover.

A House committee made changes to a pension overhaul this week that removed the provisions teachers found most objectionable, like raising the retirement age and making teachers pay more out of their paychecks, but the final form of the bill still needs to be hashed out between Democrats in the House and Republicans in the Senate.

Jason Glass, superintendent of the 85,000-student Jefferson County district, sent an email to parents Tuesday that said classes would be canceled next week due to a “labor shortage.” Teachers who miss school are required to use their allowed leave time.

Glass called the level of education funding in Colorado “problematic.”

“Public education staff, parents, and other supporters have become increasingly vocal in their advocacy for increased funding for our K-12 public schools and the stabilization” of the state pension plan, he wrote. “There is a belief among these groups that years of low funding is having a significant impact on our ability to attract quality candidates into the teaching profession, and is impeding the ability to effectively deliver the high level of educational experience our students deserve.”

Glass apologized for the “inconvenience” to families and reminded parents that April 26 is also “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.”

Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest district with 92,000 students, announced late Tuesday that there would be early dismissal April 27, with more details to come.

“Officials across the country and specifically lawmakers in the statehouse must finally recognize that a quality education cannot be provided on the cheap.” Denver union president Henry Roman said in a press release about the walkout. “If we want Colorado’s current economic prosperity to continue, we need to realize the importance of strong schools.”

Advocates are trying to place a $1.6 billion tax increase for education on the November ballot. Voters have twice rejected similar measures in recent years.