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.