MSCS board approves $1.8 billion budget for 2024-25, with money for higher teacher salaries

A woman wearing a black shirt walks in front of a desk with chairs in the background. There is a large logo on the side of the table that reads, "Memphis Shelby County Schools."
Eight of the nine Memphis-Shelby County school board members voted to approve the district's budget proposal. Maurcio Calvo, who represents District 5, voted no. (Andrea Morales for Chalkbeat)

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With a July 1 deadline looming, the Memphis-Shelby County school board approved a $1.8 billion budget for 2024-25 that includes more money for teachers, and job cuts for many other district employees.

The budget — cobbled together as federal pandemic relief funds are drying up — prioritizes reducing teacher shortages through a $28.4 million investment in higher salaries.

MSCS currently has 463 teacher vacancies, Superintendent Marie Feagins told the board at Tuesday’s special-called meeting. The district’s goal is to whittle those vacancies to 300 this year.

Feagins is also trying to address that shortage through offering employees whose jobs are set to be eliminated a chance to apply for school-based jobs. Of the 1,100 positions designated for cuts, about 500 or so are vacant, while 600 aren’t.

“I’ve shared since the beginning that everyone who wants a job can have a job,” Feagins told reporters after Tuesday’s meeting.

“It may have a different title, and it may be in a different location, a location that happens to be directly in the classroom, or closer to the classroom, which is where the resources are necessary.”

Earlier Tuesday, the administration held a job fair to allow many of the employees whose jobs might be eliminated or restructured to apply for those openings.

Feagins’ budget didn’t come together without controversy. Earlier this month, her plans to eliminate hundreds of jobs caught board members and district staffers — many of whom received layoff notices on June 10 — by surprise.

It led the board to pass a resolution the next day to force Feagins to pause on the layoffs, and she was criticized for her failure to communicate her plans to the board and the public.

Feagins, who took over as superintendent in April, later acknowledged that she should have communicated better, but she stood by her decision. On Tuesday, eight of the nine board members voted to approve her budget, while Maurcio Calvo, who represents District 5, did not.

Calvo said he voted no because he wasn’t clear on why the district was eliminating positions, while also holding job fairs to fill positions.

“My concern is that I don’t have clear data, and I can’t make this decision, in good conscience, without having the data,” Calvo told reporters after the meeting.

Board Chair Althea Greene, however, said the board had to make a tough call.

“I think we struggled tonight,” Greene said. “You see our hard work in trying to approve a budget. People have dedicated their lives to Memphis-Shelby County Schools, and my prayer is that we will continue to get jobs for these people … .”

“At the end of the day, it’s about the 110,000 children being able to have teachers inside the classroom with them,” she said.

Efforts to address those concerns and more are included in the 2024-25 budget. Here are a few of the line items:

  • $21.8 million for targeted coaching and tutoring to boost students’ performance on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program and end-of-course tests.
  • $14.6 million to expand afterschool programs, add bus routes for afterschool activities, and provide comprehensive afterschool activities. This is expected to affect nearly 8,000 students.
  • $2.9 million to improve attendance.
  • $96.7 million to revitalize facilities and create safer spaces for learning
  • $1.5 million to fund more graduation coaches in struggling schools

Bureau Chief Tonyaa Weathersbee oversees Chalkbeat Tennessee’s education coverage. Reach her at tweathersbee@chalkbeat.org.

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