Three Budget Cuts: Teachers' Solutions to Combat Tennessee's Deficit

By Memphis Teaching Policy Fellows Meg Bounds, Celeste Brown, Austin Crowder, Katie Kaplan, Megan O'Connor, and Lydia Stoney

It's Monday and, like many of my colleagues, I am rushing frantically to the copier to try and beat the morning frenzy. I dig through my classroom closet, past piles of books, workbooks, and old materials to try and find something more valuable than gold: copy paper. After much digging...nothing. Without copy paper, there are no copies. Without copies, there is no homework to go home with my 60 students for this week. Without homework, I am doing my students a massive disservice.

Shelby County Schools is facing a 40 million dollar deficit, a huge amount that can only lead to one outcome: budget cuts. Budget cuts are generally felt in every affected field like a shock that reverberates through the building. In Shelby County, we're facing an earthquake-like rumble.

In our district, over 47% of our students are living in poverty; classrooms across Shelby County are filled with students who come to school without the materials they need to excel. It's not simply that our students do not have books or computers-many students are unable to complete their nightly homework because they do not have a pencil at home. Shelby County School Board must ensure that the looming budget deficit does not cut into student resources. As teachers, we believe that by making three prudent budget cuts instead, Shelby County can allocate available funds in the right places-to serve students.

Textbooks
Walk into any classroom in Shelby County and you will see stacks of untouched textbooks that sit on the shelves collecting dust. Since the introduction of the Comprehensive Literacy Improvement Plan (CLIP) and the implementations of the TNReady Standards, there has been a shift in the district to a more multisensory learning approach. Teachers are now hand-making materials and utilizing online resources to make sure their students both receive a 21st century education and meet the standards.

The new approach does not leave much room for standard textbooks or supplemental workbooks. Teachers like us only use the textbooks to make sure the content in our lesson plans is aligned to the curriculum. We can easily print whatever is valuable to the lesson from a digital textbook at our discretion.

The average textbook costs $70, and most classes are allotted approximately 80 books. There are classrooms with nearly $5,600 of textbooks lining the walls. And when you factor in the cost of four workbooks per student, there is another $800 per classroom collecting dust. The School Board should elect to cut the textbook budget, which would save Shelby County hundreds of thousands of dollars. This money could be used to supply teachers with copy paper and ink for printing-resources that teachers find indispensable and often have to purchase out of pocket. A cut in the textbook budget would ensure that teachers are able to use what is relevant and needed in their classrooms to better meet the needs of their students.

Professional Development
Every school in Shelby County is different, and within each school there are teachers with different needs. Despite this, professional development in Shelby County Schools is often a one-size-fits-all approach that is not reflective of the needs of our students and teachers.

We believe that professional development in our district should be at the discretion of each teacher based on his or her reflection of their strengths and weaknesses in their teaching practices, as well as their availability and personal schedule. Once a teacher has established his or her areas of needed improvement, the district should provide opportunities for the teacher to address their individual needs. Instead of outsourcing professional development, we should transfer it into the hands of the highest-performing teachers in our district who can use their own classroom experience to train their peers.

Energy Conservation
Want to cut your electric bill at home? Turn more lights off. If classrooms throughout the district were actively conserving energy, we could save up to thirty cents for every dollar spent on energy use and make a sizable dent in our 40 million dollar deficit.

Simple reminders to turn off any and all appliances (i.e. lights, computers, air conditioners, unused refrigerators, kitchen ovens, etc.) when not in use and at the end of each school day would help Shelby County Schools to not only conserve energy but also conserve money. Classrooms and entire school buildings can elect an in-house energy conservationist to root out any perceived energy waste. We need an all-hands-on-deck approach in order to reduce the current outstanding deficit; something as simple as turning off the lights each and every day brings us one step closer to doing this.

Shelby County has gained national praise for our progress in combatting the achievement gap and we must continue to make high-quality education attainable for all. It is imperative that the Shelby County School Board makes the right budget cuts, and not simply those that are the easiest. It would be a grave disservice to our students, our families, our communities, and our teachers to cut funding for the essential parts of our classrooms.