The City Schools' Surplus Adds Up 

With enrollment down, 115 teachers are on paid leave.

About 115 Memphis City Schools teachers are being temporarily laid off until they can be reassigned to new schools as the system adjusts for overcrowded and underutilized facilities and an overall decline of nearly 3,000 students since last year.

Teachers call it "being surplused." MCS officials call it "staff readjustment." Either way, it adds uncertainty to what has already been a confusing and, in some cases, chaotic year.

Renee Malone, spokeswoman for MCS, said the surplus of teachers is mainly at middle and high schools but could not identify specific schools. The surplus teachers include both first-year teachers who were the most recent hires and veteran teachers who volunteered to take new assignments.

The teachers will continue to be paid until new positions are found for them. Depending on their certification, surplus teachers can be assigned to elementary or secondary schools in their subject area. Malone said the school system typically hires about 70 new teachers each year between September and December because of vacancies that occur for various reasons.

"Even though a teacher may not be needed at one school, they may be needed at another one," she said.

With the first six-weeks grading period coming to an end this week, MCS enrollment is 117,283 -- a decline of 2,864 or 2.3 percent from the enrollment of 120,147 at the end of last school year. Student enrollment is the primary driver of state funding under the Basic Education Program. The complicated formula has 45 components, and local districts supplement their basic allocation differently. Katharine Mosher, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Education, said funding is determined by the previous year's enrollment. When there is a decline, funds are stabilized for one year and lowered if the enrollment decline continues for a second year.

There is obviously an incentive for school districts to report the highest accurate count in order to maximize funding. Counting students in a large urban system is complicated and inexact. There are nine reporting periods, some of which are weighted more heavily than others, to come up with what is commonly called "the enrollment."

"Keep in mind that enrollment typically increases as the school year goes on," Malone said.

The most recent enrollment reports for individual schools show wide variations at the secondary level. The largest high schools are Cordova (2,350 students), White Station (2,330), Whitehaven (1,847), and Wooddale (1,666). The smallest are Manassas (391), Westside (491), Westwood (504), and Southside (554). Efforts to close schools meet with powerful community and political opposition, and school board members have given in to it in some notable cases. Manassas, for example, is getting a new high school next year, and Douglass High School, closed in 1981, is being reopened in a new building at the old location.

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