The Budget: A pay raise for all teachers and staff

The Board of Education approved the 2014-15 budget request on April 8. It calls for a $32.5 million increase over last year. That increase includes $17.3 million in required spending like inflation and payouts to charter schools. The rest is made up of strategic priorities to improve instruction in our classrooms. 

  • Budget Priority: Teacher and Staff Pay Raises and Other Compensation
  • Investment: $8 million

Under the 2014-15 budget request, all Metro teachers and staff would receive a two percent pay raise. Most years, the Governor calls for a statewide teacher pay raise that the state helps fund. His proposed budget does not include a statewide raise this year, but Metro Schools wants to recruit and retain the best.

By funding a teacher and staff raise locally, we reward the hard working educators who are helping Nashville students make real, measurable progress. We also keep pace with other districts and other states and stay competitive in teacher pay.

If we want a great teacher in every Metro classroom, we have to be able to attract teachers from all over the country and develop and retain them once they get here. More than half our early career teachers whose students make significant gains year after year tell us they do not plan to stay at Metro Schools for their entire careers.

There aren’t many teachers who teach for the money, but competitive pay is still crucial to effective teacher recruitment and retention.

A two percent raise for all 6,000 teachers would cost around $7.3 million, while the same raise for support staff is $2 million.

Other cost increases in compensation aren’t a choice. They are required. Those include increases in pension and retiree insurance. But thanks to savings from our retirement incentive program ($3.4 million) and FICA contributions ($1.6 million), those costs are offset somewhat.

While we cannot be certain about any pay raises until the Metro Council approves a final budget amount in June, we believe a pay raise for all employees rewards the hard work and improvements happening in our schools and will keep our district on track to attract and retain the very best teachers and staff.

Read More in the Budget Series:
Part 1 – Prekindergarten
Part 2 – Teacher and Staff Pay Raises
Part 3 – Technology and Training
Part 4 – Literacy
Part 5 – World Class Music Education for Every Student

Metro Schools officials have a budget hearing with the Metro Council scheduled for June 4 at 4:15 p.m. in the Council Chambers. Wear blue to show your support for Metro Schools.

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The Budget: Expanding prekindergarten pays off big dividends

The Board of Education approved the 2014-15 budget request on April 8. It calls for a $32.5 million increase over last year. That increase includes $17.3 million in required spending like inflation and payouts to charter schools. The rest is made up of strategic priorities to improve instruction in our classrooms.

  • Budget Priority: Adding 340 New Prekindergarten Seats
  • Investment: $3.4 million for hiring teachers, buying equipment, developing curriculum and more

Less than half of students coming into kindergarten in Metro Schools have access to affordable, high-quality preschool programs. Right now in our own prekindergarten classes, we can only serve about 2,500 kids. Head Start serves another 1,400 children, and private providers serve more, but many families who want and need pre-K are not served.

There are more than 1,100 children on our pre-k wait list. We need to change that.

One of our top budget priorities this year is to start expanding pre-k now so we can serve all eligible families in Davidson County by 2018. The first step is adding 340 new high-quality pre-k seats next year in strategically located Pre-k Model Learning Centers.

We’ve already talked about the whys and the research extensively, so let’s get into the particulars that give this plan the potential for success for a relatively small investment.

The Board of Education has approved turning Ross and Bordeaux Elementary Schools into model pre-k centers, as well as opening new classrooms in the Casa Azafran community center on Nolensville road. These centers will provide:

  • Exemplary teachers and assistant teachers in every classroom with knowledge of early childhood development
  • Instructional leaders focused on creating centers of excellence in staff development
  • Intensive focus on language development, early math skills and multicultural programming
  • Priority placed on children’s social-emotional development and executive function
  • Full-day programming (8:00 am to 3:00 pm), with before and after-care options
  • Strong parent engagement, including parent education, to support student learning at home
  • Partnerships to ensure comprehensive health and social services for students and families

The Model Learning Centers won’t just serve students, but teachers, too. Pre-k teachers from across Nashville will come to the Centers to learn best practices and get professional development.

To focus on that instructional quality in addition to classroom quantity, we’re partnering with the Peabody Research Institute at Vanderbilt University to help us develop the program and the best practices to be modeled in these centers. We are also working with Head Start, the United Way, Conexion Americas and other experts in community service to better serve the whole child and provide wrap-around services for families. If families and children have access to what they need outside school, they have a better chance for success in school.

The need for more pre-k seats is particularly urgent now, as changes to Tennessee kindergarten age requirements mean as many as 800-1,000 Nashville children will be left without an affordable, high-quality early learning option. If we want to see real progress in educational outcomes in Nashville, we have to start early. That means getting more students into pre-k, where they can be adequately prepared for a rich and rewarding K-12 learning experience.

Metro Schools officials will meet with Mayor Dean for a budget hearing on Wednesday, April 16, at 11:00 a.m. in the Mayor’s Office. The hearing with Metro Council is scheduled for June 4 at 4:15 p.m. in the Council Chambers. Wear blue to show your support for Metro Schools.

Metro Schools receives nine charter school applications in 2014

Metro Nashville Public Schools received nine applications for charter schools to open in the fall of 2015 by the April 1, 2014, deadline. Three applications propose expanding schools currently operating; three propose replicating school models approved by the Board of Education last year and three are from new school operators.

“This is the next important step in the process,” said Alan Coverstone, who leads the Innovation Office that manages charter school authorizing for Metro Schools. “Later this week, application review committees will begin examining each proposal.”

The district’s work to professionalize charter school authorizing and oversight since 2009 has borne fruit as the district has granted charters to several academically high-performing schools that serve diverse student bodies.

Review teams are organized and trained according to the Principles and Standards of high-quality authorizing articulated by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA).

“We will only recommend approval of strong schools that serve the best interests of the students of Davidson County,” said Coverstone.

A thorough review of each application against a detailed scoring rubric is the first step in the evaluation. Each proposal is examined for its capacity to provide an exemplary educational program, strong operational capacity, and long-term financial viability. The final evaluation includes an interview with each applicant group and an evaluation against Board-articulated priorities, including academic excellence and diversity, school conversion and student growth management. Recommendations will be delivered to the School Board in late July.

“The Metro Schools mission emphasizes the importance of high-performing and diverse schools and we are pleased to see some real successes in those areas with schools serving students well each year,” said Coverstone.

Applications now under review are:

  • The International Academy of Excellence – Proposed to serve K-4 beginning with kindergarten and 110 students, reaching 550 at capacity.
  • KIPP Academy Nashville Elementary School (KANES) – Proposed as a phased conversion of a target school to serve grades K-4, beginning with K-1 and growing one grade per year.
  • Knowledge Academy High – Proposed to serve grades 9-12, beginning with grade 9 and 105 students, building out 420 students at capacity.
  • Rocketship – Proposed Rocketship schools would serve PK – 4, opening with 475 students in PK-4 and at capacity serve 575. One application is for a new school in South Nashville and a second would convert management of a target school.
  • STEM Prep – Proposed to serve grades 9-12, beginning with grade 9 and 100 students, serving 400 at capacity.
  • STRIVE Collegiate Academy – Proposed middle school serving grades 5-8, opening with grade 5 and 115 students, reaching a capacity of 460 in grades 5-8.
  • The Tracey Darnell Agricultural Science and Technology Academy – Proposed high school to begin with grade 9, 40 students and at capacity serve 400 students in grades 9-12.
  • Valor Collegiate Academy Southeast – Proposed K-8 replication of Valor Collegiate and modeled after Summit Prep to serve families in southeast Nashville.  At capacity would serve 975 students.

Studies tout Metro Schools’ Common Core & PARCC readiness

America’s education experts have taken notice of what’s happening in Metro Schools.

It’s not something parents might notice just by looking at their child’s school, but over the last several years, a great deal of change has been building in the district. It’s all led up to the launch of Education 2018: Excellence for Every Student, the strategic plan to become the highest-performing urban district in the nation, and the transformation that plan is bringing to every Metro classroom.

That transformation is being held up as an example of how to successfully implement the Common Core State Standards and prepare for the online assessments they bring. Metro Schools is featured as a case study in a new white paper, showing how a district can successfully transition into 21st century teaching and learning.

The white paper, called Raising the BAR: Becoming Assessment Ready, comes from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), eLearn Institute and Education Networks of America (ENA).

MNPS is clearly making the human and financial investments to ensure its students, teachers, administrators and parents are prepared not only for the upcoming CCSS online assessments, but also for the digital learning transformation that is necessary to implement its personalized learning initiative. MNPS has specific and measurable metrics in place to monitor its progress during its three-year implementation plan.

Another major study, Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, also looks at Metro Schools’ Common Core preparation and calls the district the “Urban Bellwether.”

Uniquely poised going into the transition, Metro Nashville Public Schools has drawn on dedicated funding, good partnerships with the state, and strong local leadership in its early rollout of the Common Core. High levels of communication and a culture of trust among educators, the district, and the central office have helped Metro Nashville to move forward with the Common Core without major opposition, despite emerging pushback in other areas of the state. The transition to the new standards has not been without challenges in the district, and the early adoption of the standards—prior to the state’s textbook adoption timeline—presented a particular challenge as teachers struggled to find and create high-quality transitional curricular materials. But the district believes the short-term challenges and at times rocky transition have deepened teacher learning about the demands and details of the new standards, improving conditions for quality implementation in the long run. Metro Nashville’s continued implementation challenge now lies in navigating the complexities of integrating teacher evaluation reforms with the ongoing transition to new Common Core-aligned assessments.

The full Raising the BAR white paper is on the ENA website, while Common Core in the Districts can be found on EdExcellence.net.

Raising the BAR: Becoming Assessment Ready

Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers

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.

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.