New school districts see light at end of budgetary tunnel

Photo of money for a budget

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Bartlett, Arlington and Lakeland municipal school districts are balancing their budgets for their first year of operations, and it has meant hours of meetings and plenty of number tweaking.

They have near-final versions now. The final step is obtaining approval at their next city board meetings.

With generous city support and the economy of sharing certain operational services with other area school districts, the numbers are adding up as they hoped.

See summaries of all three districts’ budgets in this issue at the following links, as well as in more detailed versions on each district’s website:

Arlington budget

Arlington school superintendent Tammy Mason talked this week about her district’s balanced budget of just over $36 million. That’s over what was originally projected in a feasibility study, but it reflects the increased student enrollment the district is now projecting.

She highlighted the following areas:

Improved staffing ratios. Arlington has gone back to the better student-to-teacher ratios of two years ago, Mason said. Those include 19:1, kindergarten through third grade; 24:1, fourth through sixth grades; 26:1, seventh and eighth grades; and 23:1 for high school students. The bulk of the district’s funds are spent in personnel costs, she said. She clarified that these ratios are pure academic ratios, not including music, art and physical education teachers.

Lean central office. Like the other area districts, Arlington runs a very lean central office, less than 5 percent of the budget.

School nurses (three to serve four schools).

Increased assistant ratios for elementary schools. That adds up to an assistant for every 100 students in grades K-3. Mason said she believes the current ratio in the merged Shelby County District is one assistant to every 300 students, so it is a definite improvement.

“Step increases” in salary for each teacher. These incremental pay increases are given annually for years one through 18. Last year, teachers did not receive the typical step increases. (On its website, the Tennessee Education Association provides general information about teacher salaries in Tennessee.)

Allotment to begin funding the district’s Public School Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) liability. This is just over $200,000 and is not expected to be needed this year, but the district needs to begin saving now as some could retire next year, Mason said.

Improved medical cost payments. Arlington expects to payment of an average of 66% of each employee’s medical costs; currently, the Shelby County School district pays an average of 63 percent, Mason said.

Strategic use of contractual services and shared services where possible. The recent decision of the Germantown Municipal School district to opt into shared services has lessened costs for all the other new districts.

Town support. The town of Arlington is also contributing above the 15-cent requirement for this first school year to help pay for the building fees ($333,000 due to Shelby County annually for the next 12 years). The goal is for the district to try to shoulder that cost itself next year, Mason said.


Lakeland School System's initial budget approval

EDITOR'S NOTE: This version of this story fixes an error in the print edition that incorrectly referred to Collierville's district instead of Lakeland's.