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.

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