What can you do to help heating and cooling at your school?

We hear you: there are some heat issues in Metro schools. Some classrooms, lunchrooms and libraries scattered across the district are colder than normal.

We know it, and we’re addressing it. The unprecedented cold that has gripped Nashville this month has made it very difficult. When possible, principals and teachers work together to make other arrangements for students in cold classrooms. I’ve personally spoken with many principals who either moved students to a warmer part of the building or let them wear extra coats and jackets.

But you should know this: our maintenance crews are still working long hours to make repairs. They haven’t stopped working since this cold snap started early this month. They prioritize repair jobs according to a strict system and get to work on what needs it most.

So what is the long-term solution here? Besides making basic repairs or temporary fixes to get us through the rest of the winter, what can we do to keep students comfortable now and in the future?

Support funding for our schools.

Food for thought: MNPS has 14 million square feet of space in 200 buildings. The average age of our buildings is 43 years. Each campus has an average of 100 pieces of heating and cooling equipment. Many of these systems are old, sometimes very old.

We have a team of just 15 people on our HVAC crew to maintain them all.

Our maintenance employees work hard to keep systems running, but some just need to be replaced. That takes capital funding. The best way to ensure long-term solutions to cold buildings is to support capital funding for Metro Schools.

By supporting capital funding, you are not only making sure we can replace aging boilers and air handlers, you are also helping us get rid of portables at schools like Lakeview Elementary, Westmeade Elementary, Paragon Mills Elementary and many more. The more classrooms we can build with capital funds, the fewer students we will have to serve in portable, temporary classrooms.

How does capital funding work? Our Board of Education approves a capital funding request that includes all projects we want to fund this year. The Mayor and Metro Council then review that request and decide how much of it to fund.

The Board of Education will vote on this year’s Capital Budget request in a specially called meeting this Thursday night at 6:00 p.m. You can watch the live-blog of their vote right here.

See the full Capital Budget proposal right here.

To see what it’s like to be one of those people working hard to keep HVAC equipment running, read this.

To see how this season has affected our crews – and their budgets – read this.

Mayor announces $6 million capital plan for student technology

Mayor Karl Dean will file legislation with the Metro Council for $6 million in capital funding to purchase student technology needed for PARCC testing.

From the Mayor’s Office:

Mayor Announces Investment of City Capital Funds to Purchase Technology for Metro Schools

New Computers Would be Purchased With $6 Million Capital Plan

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Mayor Karl Dean today announced that legislation has been filed with the Metro Council to use city capital funds to purchase $6 million of technology for Metro Schools, which would fund computers to prepare students for Common Core State Standards and taking new state-required standardized tests.

“Education has been and remains my top priority, and as a supporter of the more rigorous Common Core State Standards and the testing that accompanies them, I am dedicated to ensuring that our students have the tools they need to succeed,” Mayor Dean said. “Using city capital funds will also allow Metro Schools’ reserve fund to remain at its current healthy level, which is critical in the event that an unforeseen financial emergency should occur. I appreciate the collaborative effort that Metro Schools has made to reach this agreement and help ensure that we are providing our students with the resources they need while still exercising fiscal restraint.”

After discussions between the city and Metro Schools, both agreed a $6 million capital plan would allow Metro Schools to purchase computers and computer carts for students to prepare for Common Core and take the new tests. Metro Schools plans to use existing resources in its operating budget to cover teacher training. The Metro School Board initially voted to use $14.8 million from reserve funds to pay for new technology, teacher training and other items. This new capital plan allows Metro Schools to meet its testing needs without tapping into reserve funds.

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are more rigorous educational standards to ensure students graduate high school prepared for college or career. In many states that are implementing Common Core, students in grades 3 to 11 take new state-mandated tests, called Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). In Tennessee, students will take PARCC tests for the first time next school year.

“On behalf of Metro Schools, I want to thank Mayor Dean for proposing this agreement to our technology funding request,” said Jesse Register, director of Metro Schools. “Now, we should be able to fully implement our technology plan by the time school starts next year with this solution. We are fortunate to have a Mayor who is willing to use city resources to support the needs of our students.”

Today’s substitute legislation amends a $15 million capital spending plan for heavy equipment that was filed a week ago by adding the $6 million technology purchase.

Severe weather underlines need for school building improvements, expansions

The flood of May 2010 had a devastating impact on all of Nashville. Even those not directly affected knew someone who was. Lives were lost, homes were destroyed, businesses were ruined and whole neighborhoods had to be rebuilt.

For Metro Schools buildings and facilities, the 2014 “arctic vortex” was worse.

The damage was more widespread and emergency repairs more numerous than after the great flood. It’s a rare occurrence, but also the perfect illustration of employee dedication to Nashville’s students.

Here are the raw numbers from last week:

  • 369 work orders for heat
  • 75 work orders for plumbing (so far)
  • 250 bus repairs
  • 100 “road calls” for bus repairs off-site
  • 120 bus batteries replaced
  • More than $132,000 in maintenance costs alone. That does not include costs to the Transportation Department.

But the most important number is this one:

  • 2 instructional days lost

We hate to lose instruction days, but given the circumstances we’re pleased that number isn’t higher. If not for Metro Schools employees working around the clock (literally) in extreme circumstances (like zero-degree temperatures and sometimes chest-high water), it could have been much, much worse.

The hard work of Metro maintenance crews, transportation workers and GCA custodial teams allowed us to start our semester with minimal disruption. We owe them our thanks – today and every day – for keeping our schools in order.

They are prime examples of our philosophy that every single Metro Schools employee is responsible for supporting students.

The maintenance crews do their best with the resources available, but extreme cold takes a toll, particularly on aging plumbing and HVAC systems. The average age of our buildings is 43 years.

The clean up from this weather shines a big spotlight on the need for capital improvements in Metro school buildings. Not only are vital systems often decades old and in need of updating, but our schools use more than 350 portables just to house all 83,000 of our students.

Those portables suffer most in bad weather, with poor insulation, vulnerable electrical lines, no foundations and open walkways back to the main school building.

All told, needed improvements to Metro Schools facilities total more than $1 billion. We chip away at that bit by bit every year through the capital budget allocation from Metro Government, but new needs and changing circumstances – like extreme cold – keep adding to it.

A safe and comfortable learning environment is essential for student success in school. With support from the city, we can give students the buildings they deserve to learn in every day.

Facts on fund balance & why we must spend on technology

UPDATE (Jan. 17, 3:25 p.m.): Mayor Karl Dean will file legislation with the Metro Council for $6 million in capital funding to purchase technology needed for PARCC testing.

Read the full press release from the Mayor’s Office.

PREVIOUSLY:

What is a fund balance?

The amount of money we receive from Metro Government is based on a projection of county revenue. When revenue is more than expected, the difference goes into a “fund balance,” a pot of extra money set aside for a rainy day. Likewise, if we do not spend all of the money in a given year’s budget, the remaining funds go into the fund balance.

Metro Government policy dictates we keep the fund balance high enough so that it’s equal to at least 5% of our operating budget, a number we’ve beaten handily for several years.

Are charter schools part of this fund balance?

Interestingly enough, no, even though they are funded according to the same methods we are. Any extra money they receive is readily available for spending. They do not need special authorization from the Metro Council as the district does.

What is the fund balance spent on?

The Metro Council must approve any use of the fund balance, usually based on a recommendation from the Mayor.

Earlier this fall, the Board of Education approved a plan to use some of the fund balance. The Board sent a request to the Mayor to use parts of its fund balance for big, one-time expenses including:

  1. Retirement incentives for 30+ year employees
  2. Technology and teacher training to prepare for state-mandated PARCC testing for Common Core State Standards
  3. A newer, more efficient timekeeping service that will help us better keep track of employee hours, attendance and pay

The Mayor recommended to Council to allow us to tap the fund balance for item #1, and we are grateful for that. The retirement incentives could save our district between $2-7 million per year in employee costs.

The Mayor did not recommend our requests for funding for timekeeping services and to buy technology and properly train teachers for upcoming PARCC tests.

What are PARCC tests and why do teachers need to be trained?

PARCC testing is the online testing that goes hand-in-hand with the new Common Core State Standards. It will take the place of TCAP and End-of-Course tests very soon. The entire state is moving to PARCC testing, along with most other states. Just like Common Core State Standards, PARCC assessments have been developed by the states, not by the federal government.

Huge portions of PARCC testing are only done online. That means our classrooms and teachers need to be technology ready before we can even take the tests, much less score well.

That gives us three big, immediate needs:

  1. Buy 8-9,000 laptops, enough to allow every student in the largest grades of every school to all take online tests simultaneously.
  2. Prepare our schools with strong enough wifi to handle all the simultaneous traffic.
  3. Train teachers on using the new technology for classroom instruction and on the specifics of PARCC testing and the technology to administer PARCC.

Need #2 is finished. That’s a project we proudly capped off this semester. Needs #1 #3 are still needed. We need to buy more laptops and train some 6,000 teachers and staff to ensure proper administration.

As you can imagine, that costs money. Our hope was to use some of the fund balance to pay for this, and incorporate future technology needs and upgrades into future operating and capital budgets.

Why didn’t you just ask for this money in the operating and capital budget process this year?

We did.  For the last few years, the Board of Education requested millions of dollars in technology funding from the Mayor and Metro Council, but those requests have only been partly met, if they were met at all.

We haven’t made a substantial investment in technology since the 2007-2008 school year, when we received $14 million for technology spending. Every year since has been $10 million or less, and some years have been $0. Our ten-year plan calls for $15-20 million every year in technology spending just to keep up.

What will you do without the funding for this technology and training?

We will have to find the money elsewhere. We must provide the technology for students to take PARCC assessments and must train teachers to use the technology and administer the assessments.

Just like the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce recommended, we intend to be the leading district in Tennessee in implementing and communicating Common Core State Standards. And nothing has changed about the need to buy more technology for PARCC testing.

Facts on district revenue and per-pupil spending

In past articles, we’ve shown you how much money we get and where it all goes.

Our community deserves an honest dialogue – without ideology and special interest talking points – about school funding that includes a fair assessment of needs, expenses, and revenue.

So let’s talk for a moment about where money comes from and under what circumstances we get more of it.

Where does revenue come from?

About a third of our operating budget comes from the State of Tennessee. They give us a certain amount of money per student and according to what kind of student. When more students enroll, our revenue from the state goes up, to the tune of about $3,200 per student.

The other two-thirds comes from the Metro Government, paid from county taxes and allocated by the Mayor’s Office and the Metro Council. The amount of money we get from the Metro Government is fixed. It is not tied to a per-student formula the way state money is.

This year our enrollment is up by nearly 1,800 students. About a third of our revenue (from the state) reflected that increase. The other two-thirds of our revenue (from the Metro Government) remained flat.

[NOTE: We received a $26 million increase in our operating budget from the 2012-13 school year to the 2013-14 school year. Of this $26 million, $12 million came from our own fund balance, $10 million came from the state and $4 million came from Metro Government.]

How does that money move around the district?

It’s a phrase people use a lot: per-pupil spending. Metro Schools spends around $9,100 per pupil in grades K-12. When a student moves from one school to another, the money theoretically follows him.

If the student leaves his neighborhood school and moves into a magnet school, he is moving from one district-operated school to another. The money attached to him stays in the same pot of district money and our per-pupil spending amount stays the same.

When a student leaves his neighborhood school – or a magnet school – for a charter school, the $9,100 moves to the charter management organization that runs the charter.

When a student leaves a district school for a private school, the money does not follow him to the private school. The district loses the state revenue associated with that student, but the private school does not get it. The funding from Metro Government is unchanged. The private school gets private money in the form of tuition.

The expenses of the neighborhood school don’t increase with every additional student and don’t decline with every student departure. The school is spending the same amount to keep its lights on and its hallways clean. The school still has teachers to pay and technology to buy and maintain.

Innovative practices that are designed to quickly improve achievement could face tough times, like extended learning time, model classrooms and certain kinds of school-level professional development.

What’s the solution?

Our strategic plan calls for more equitable use of resources, placing money where it’s needed most for fair service of students. We are already moving toward a model that puts more money directly in the hands of principals, allowing them to spend money in ways that will most directly benefit the unique needs of their students. That will help everyone decide best allocation of existing resources and ensure that money is spent in the most effective ways.

But what about revenue?

The answer will come from a community discussion of school finances. We must have an honest and open dialogue about revenue and expenses. The Board of Education began that conversation this fall, well in advance of the usual budget cycle.

This issue has wide-reaching effects, beyond just budgeting and buying textbooks. It can affect a school’s character and existence.

Let’s look at it at the individual school level. When a school is constantly threatened with drastic budget cuts or even closure, it has a more difficult time attracting students, which leads to further budget reductions.

It is a cycle that puts even more of a burden on teachers and principals to properly educate the students they already have.

School-based budgeting gives power to the principals

“Knowledge about the needs of students is greatest closest to the student… School leaders require the ability to make decisions based on their knowledge, expertise and professional discretion.”

In a world of principal autonomy and school-based decision making, what is left for the central organization of a modern school district? Where does it fit in, and what role does it have to play?

Here in Nashville, the role of central office is changing dramatically. The top-down management structure is disappearing. In its place is a knowledge and support organization designed to provide central services, study and share innovative practices, develop leaders and keep schools accountable. In fact, this change is already reflected in the district budget and in a pilot program working in 15 schools right now for school-based budgeting.

What is school-based budgeting, and what does that look like?

At these 15 schools, principals have direct control over $6,300 per student (on average), meaning they can spend that money as they see fit. That number is expected to increase over time. The rest of the money goes to central services like transportation, food services, human capital, textbooks, building services and more.

SEE the school’s individual budgets.

The idea is to bring powerful decision-making power right into the schools, where the most knowledge about individual students lives. Next year, this program is expected to expand to 50-60 schools and could go district-wide by 2015-16.

During that time the whole concept could go even further, putting 100% of per-pupil funding on school level budgets. That would greatly expand the level of flexibility and discretion given to each principal and ensure funding is distributed equitably based on individual student need. In that scenario, school leaders would “buy” central services from the district, and there would be certain non-negotiable services like the Board of Education.

This is a culture change, moving central office to a system of specialized support for schools and giving more decision-making power to principals.

Updated: Where does the money go?

UPDATE: Our comprehensive and award-winning budget book is now available for your review. At 228 pages, is contains all the financial facts you could want for fiscal year 2013-14.

DOWNLOAD the FY2013-14 Budget Book
(PDF – 33.8MB)

Contained within the budget book is a greatly expanded version of our original post, the 2012-13 School Year Expenditure Analysis. It gives an in-depth (50 page) look at all of the money spent from the Metro Schools operating budget and grants.

For the sake of convenience, we’ve broken it out into a separate document.

DOWNLOAD the SY2012-13 Budget Analysis
(PDF – 2.1MB)


PREVIOUSLY:

Let’s look at the facts of public education funding in Nashville.

Here is a breakdown of the 2012-13 operating budget:

  • $714 million – 2012-13 District Operating Budget
  • $441 million – Amount sent directly to district-run schools
  • $28.2 million  – Amount sent to charter schools
  • $163.3 – million – Amount spent on school-specific operations and instructional support services like transportation, maintenance, custodial and grounds, IT
  • $41.4 million – Amount spent on Board of Education, Human Capital, Finance and Purchasing, instructional departments and other central support functions
  • $39.2 million – Amount spent on retiree benefits, pension and debt service

When those are added together, they give a great deal more context:

  • Including charter schools, nearly 66% of resources serve schools directly.
  • Including school specific services like transportation and maintenance, more than 88% of MNPS expenditures flow to schools to provide and support instruction.

In chart form:

Directly to District-run Schools $441,107,943 61.7% All school-based staff such as teachers, principals, counselors, librarians, bookkeepers, etc.
Centrally Managed, School-based Services $163,348,961 22.9% Transportation, maintenance, custodial, utilities, textbooks, and itinerant social workers, psychologists, and other
Central Services $41,458,693 5.8% Board, Superintendent, Finance, Purchasing, HR, Leadership & Learning Supervision, other centralized services (e.g., most of IT/data warehouse)
Obligations $39,252,805 5.5% Pension, retiree insurance, debt service
Charter Schools $28,240,250 4.0% Pass-through to charter schools
Other $1,032,606 0.1% Pass-through expenses
GRAND TOTAL $714,441,258 100%