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VOL. 127 | NO. 68 | Friday, April 06, 2012

State Treasurer: Charter Schools Not a Hardship

By Bill Dries

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For several months, the Tennessee treasurer and comptroller struggled to get and reconcile basic head counts for both of Shelby County’s public school systems to make a decision on whether 17 new charter schools to open in August would be too much of a financial drain on the systems.

A ruling from Tennessee Treasurer David Lillard means there will be more charter schools next year like the Power Center Academy in Hickory Hill. 

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

The countywide school board governing both systems going into an August 2013 merger repeatedly pledged to deliver the information and ultimately did, although it still didn’t seem to make sense to those in the two state offices.

That included a count of the number of homerooms in several schools. The data counted 176 students at A. Maceo Walker Middle School with 51 classrooms – which amounts to three students per classroom. Or 135 students in 60 classrooms at American Way Middle School, which comes to two students per classroom.

“It submitted inaccurate and unusable data that required additional submissions that ultimately prolonged the resolution of this matter,” Tennessee Treasurer David Lillard said of the unified school board in his findings.

When Lillard issued his 16-page report Wednesday, April 4, concluding the new charter schools were not a financial hardship on the school systems, he disputed other numbers the school board used to make its financial hardship argument.

Memphis City Schools estimated 4,545 students now in the system would transfer to the charter schools. Lillard believed some students the school system anticipated jumping to existing charter schools upped the total to be more than twice what it should be.

And he said the state law setting up the review process doesn’t allow those students to be considered.

Lillard’s estimate is 1,705 MCS students would move to the new charters and 400 Shelby County Schools students would move to the new charters for a total of 2,105 students.

Lillard also concluded that the impact of an end to $70 million in city of Memphis education funding once the schools are merged is also not a factor for denying the charter schools although it was part of the argument the school system made to state officials.

He puts the cost of state and local Basic Education Program funding away from the conventional MCS schools that would travel with those students to the new charter schools at nearly $13.2 million.

In the context of the MCS budget of approximately $1 billion, Lillard said the financial impact of the new charter schools “will not impose a budgetary or financial burden on (MCS) beyond that associated with normal enrollment fluctuations.”

The report also notes that between the 2010-2011 school year and the 2011-2012 school year, both systems combined reduced the number of classrooms over the two school systems by 652.

“Even taking a view most favorable to the Unified Board, it appears that based on the data provided, the Unified Board has the ability to reduce the number of classrooms and reduce expenses as contemplated by the statute, which clearly supports a finding that the application denials were not reasonable based on a substantial negative fiscal impact,” Lillard wrote.

The countywide school board can appeal the determination to the Tennessee Board of Education within five days of the decision.

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