Magnet schools, Project GRAD cut to balance budget

Sandra ClarkFeature

Knox County Schools faces a $3 million shortfall with projected new revenue of $12.1 million and projected new expenses of $15.1 million for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The school board discussed Superintendent Bob Thomas’ proposed budget on Monday and is scheduled to vote on it Wednesday (4/11). Monday’s meeting was so long that speakers started at 5 p.m. saying “good afternoon” and ended at 12:31 a.m. saying “good morning.”

Middle schools set to open in fall 2018 at Gibbs and Hardin Valley will add almost $5 million to the annual operating budget.

Thomas is proposing to eliminate magnet programs at Green and Sarah Moore Greene on the East Side along with non-renewing Project GRAD, a program that provides college scholarships, social workers and tutors at Austin-East and Fulton high schools and associated feeders. Thomas said KCS provides about half the funding for GRAD with the balance coming from private sources.

New expenses for FY 19

$5.8 million increase in KCS’s share of employee health insurance and contribution to state pension plan.

$4.7 million – ongoing incremental increase for operating two new middle schools.

$2.4 million for 42 new positions added this year, primarily for struggling schools

$1.2 million to transportation (final year to add $1 million per year for school bus contractors to hire and retain quality drivers and maintain reliable equipment); $200,000 to offset loss of federal funding for transportation for A-E and Fulton.

$1 million state-mandated increase to Emerald Academy, a public charter school which is adding 125 students in two new classes.

Budget cuts

No salary increases – only step increases for those eligible

Ending 18-year partnership with Project GRAD, but Thomas hopes to retain high school programs if GRAD can raise funding. Savings to KCS – $1.04 million

Great Schools Partnership funds community schools and will be adding three new schools this year – Springhill and Belle Morris elementary schools and Whittle Springs Middle

Magnet programs are not significantly impacting student achievement, Thomas said. His budget will eliminate magnet programs at Green (43 transfer students) and Sarah Moore Greene (58 transfers). KCS will continue to provide transportation to students who have transferred to these schools.

Reading proficiency

Reading proficiency is crucial for student success, Thomas said, and Knox County Schools is falling short. The state’s goal is for 75 percent of third graders to be reading on grade level by 2025. KCS is currently at 40 percent proficiency districtwide.

Thomas shared what he called “startling data” regarding reading scores at the four most at-risk elementary schools:

  • Belle Morris tested 246 students; of those, 212 were below proficient
  • Lonsdale tested 214 students; of those, 201 were below proficient
  • Green Magnet Academy tested 164 with 149 below proficient
  • Sarah Moore Greene tested 297 with 256 below proficient

“Of 921 tested, 818 were not proficient – almost 89 percent,” Thomas said. “I cannot recommend putting resources in the same programs year after year and expect different outcomes for our children.”

Thomas provided a breakdown of cost-per-student expenses at all KCS schools.

(Tomorrow, we’ll discuss comments from speakers in support of GRAD and magnets.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *