Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How many teachers would $26 million save?

County Manager Harry Jones' newly unveiled budget proposal is good news for CMS, even if it's not everything they asked for. It's not the final word, of course. The commissioners get that. But if they stick to Jones' script, CMS will get $26 million more than last year, which school board chair Eric Davis calls a welcome step in the right direction toward closing the school system's $100 million budget shortfall.

So, what exactly would CMS do with the additional $26 million? The school board has long said it would follow the four tiers of reductions outlined in Superintendent Peter Gorman's budget plan. (Some commissioners and a few school board members have questioned whether the board will truly stick to that plan). Be that as it may, the general expectation seems to be that they'll follow the tiers.

According to the tiers, $26 million would allow CMS to add back 260 teaching positions in grades 4-12 (cost: $15.4 million). Gorman has said CMS needs $10 million from the county to cover next year's projected student enrollment growth and sustaining current operations. That ostensibly would need to be handled even before you get to the tiers. So, as best as I can tell, those two items would pretty much consume the $26 million.

Falling just short of restoration would be the next priority item -- 146 teaching positions allocated under the "weighted student staffing" formula that assigns additional teachers to help low-income students. And just beyond that in the tiers would be 164 positions that include media specialists, guidance counselors and academic and literacy facilitators.

School board member Joe White told me yesterday that he's hoping the state will follow the county's example and give CMS more money. Like other school advocates around the state, he wants the General Assembly to extend the one-cent temporary sales tax. Republicans have said they want to end it, and the House version of the budget does so. With the Senate working feverishly toward finalizing its version of the budget, the true size of CMS' budget hole -- and the fate of hundreds of educators' jobs -- is slowly coming into focus.

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