SCS considers $1.3B budget raising teacher pay, adding resource officers

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The proposed budget for Shelby County Schools' 2018-19 academic year was released Wednesday.

Instead of talking about budget cuts, the head of Shelby County Schools is talking about adding staff, boosting salaries, and beefing up school security.

Earlier this week, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson shared a peek into next school year's budget, saying the budget includes no teacher layoffs, pay raises for teachers, and no increase in insurance premiums.

"The first few years after the merger it was about budget cuts and layoffs, and just trying to keep the lights on," Hopson said. "Now I'm proud to say no teacher layoffs, no health insurance costs are going up.  That is a big deal."

In the district's $1.37 billion budget, it's looking to spend $38 million in investments that will directly impact and support schools, which includes $7 million in teacher raises. This will boost the minimum wage to a $15-hour living wage.

The proposed budget will go toward educating 111,500 students and employing 11,500 workers in 207 schools.  SCS is the largest school district in the state of Tennessee and one of the 25 largest in America.

Hopson proposed the teacher raises last month in the days leading up to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration.

In the proposed budget, $8 million is earmarked for a redesign of the SCS Career and Technical program which prepares students to enter the workforce after high school if they elect not to go to college.

Nearly $5 million is budgeted for hiring 35 new guidance counselors and 10 new behavioral specialists.  The emotional needs of SCS students are now a top priority.

"Four out of 10 students are living at or below the poverty line, and they're coming into the classroom with more than just academic challenges," SCS Board Chairwoman Shante Avant said. "They're having all kinds of challenges that happen in their community."

Early literacy is also a major focus of the 2019 budget, with money dedicated to putting a reading specialist in every elementary school.  Only one in five third-graders read at grade level, putting the majority of the district's students at a serious disadvantage as they continue their education.

"If you're only reading on a 5th-grade level, you can't hold most jobs," SCS Board member Billy Orgel said. "We've got to set our students up for success."

The proposed budget also wants to add 30 new school resource officers.

Right now, there are school resource officers in every middle school and high school in the district, but these 30 new SROs will be in elementary schools.

The district would need an additional 60 officers beyond the proposed 30 to have an SRO at every school.

Keep students safe from harm, especially in the wake of the Florida school shooting, was the top budget item.

"Our number one priority is school safety and climate," said SCS Board member Chris Caldwell.

The district budgeted $3.6 million for security cameras and another $2 million to hire more school resource officers, allowing SCS to put campus cops in 30 of its 90 elementary schools.

"We think that's a good start," Hopson said.  "We'd love to see school resource officers at every school, but at the end of the day, you have to figure out how you pay for that."

To pay for these key investments, the district plans to use $25 million from its savings and request an addition $13 million from the Shelby County Commission. The school board must first approve the budget before it is presented to the commission next month.

The budget also calls for 35 new guidance counselors and 10 new behavior specialists for the district.

The board is expected to vote on the budget April 24.

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