Memphis schools approve budget, seek more funding for capital needs from county government

Superintendent Joris Ray presents an update on his initiatives during a May 2019 school board meeting. (Shelby County Schools)

Shelby County Schools unanimously approved a $1.37 billion operating budget Monday that includes a last-minute addition by school board members to restore $560,000 to expand the freshman academy program.

Board members also approved a $65 million capital improvement budget — more than double the $25 million that the county mayor has proposed for school building needs. 

“We’ve got significant needs,” said board member Billy Orgel, which includes more money for gymnasiums, new roofs, and heating and air conditioning upgrades. “And I know that our brothers and sisters out in the county at the (suburban) municipal systems, who we work with closely, also have the same needs for their aging facilities.”

The operating budget includes a 1% pay raise for teachers and additional dollars to expand some district initiatives and purchase textbooks. It also relies on spending $5 million from its reserves, which is half of the $10 million it budgeted to spend this year, and significantly less than the $49 million it spent from its reserves in 2018-19.

Board member Shante Avant pushed to add freshman academies back in the budget. The district’s freshman academies track and measure the academic progress of ninth-grade students and keep them on track for graduation. Superintendent Joris Ray said funding for the program was cut from the budget as part of the “tough decisions” he had to make, but he would find a way to replace it.

In restoring the funding, board member Kevin Woods suggested that money for the program could possibly come from federal COVID relief money the district will receive.

The budget now heads to the county commission Wednesday for approval. County government is the major funding source for public schools.

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