Metro Nashville Public Schools ought to be better equipped to handle the 2021-2022 school year thanks to the city’s new budget, which passed in June and includes an increase of roughly $81 million for MNPS. As noted by school board member and Budget and Finance Chair Freda Player-Peters at a June 22 school board meeting, this is the first time in several years Nashville schools did not have to make any budget reductions.
Apart from the continuity of operations costs that fund fixed costs and charter schools, a large portion of the upcoming budget encompasses a new teacher compensation plan for certain employees such as teachers, librarians and social workers.
These salary increases are informed by a study completed by Education Resource Strategies, a nonprofit that consults schools nationwide on how to best utilize available resources. The study, funded by the Nashville Public Education Foundation, was conducted in collaboration with Mayor John Cooper’s office and MNPS to establish a more competitive salary structure, which the mayor’s office has referred to as the Best in State Teacher Compensation Plan.
MNPS' current salary scale makes it difficult for teachers to receive raises. It could, for example, take more than a decade of employment to reach a living wage of $60,000. The new compensation program addresses this lag by providing higher starting salaries depending on degree level and experience, as well as step increases so that teachers can earn more money the longer they stay employed with MNPS.
The budget also allows for additional professional support days and a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment for both support and classroom staff.
The budget increase also provides funds to hire an additional seven school psychologists who, according to MNPS communications representative Sean Braisted, “will work with students who are experiencing mental health crises or need help dealing with trauma.” Along with the new psychologists, MNPS will receive funding to implement advocacy centers in elementary schools. These spaces, staffed by advocacy specialists, will provide social and emotional learning strategies for students who need help processing and managing their feelings.
Had the anti-property tax referendum that was recently struck down been moved to the ballot and passed later this month, the schools budget would have been greatly affected. Player-Peters acknowledged this relationship at last week’s board meeting. “If this referendum would have gotten to the ballot and passed, the technical consequences that could have happened,” Player-Peters said, “we might be having a totally different discussion literally nine months from now about reductions.”
The Davidson County Election Commission has of course appealed the judge's decision, hoping to bring the referendum to the ballot in September. (Read more about the DCEC’s ongoing happenings here.)
“To really understand how we fund education has to be a community conversation with true facts and true understanding of the budgetary process and the impact that it has,” Player-Peters said. “We would have to do that in a full, thoughtful, long-term conversation, and cannot make quick-judgment decisions on how we fund our city and more fully how we fund our education.”