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VOL. 128 | NO. 31 | Thursday, February 14, 2013

Hopson Seeks $57 Million Owed Schools

By Bill Dries

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Interim Memphis City Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson hopes to meet with Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. next week about $57 million.

HOPSON

That is the amount of money the school system won in two court decisions – trial and appellate level – from the city while Hopson was general counsel to the school system.

WHARTON

The school system successfully sued the Memphis City Council over the council’s decision in 2008 to cut school system funding below the state mandated “maintenance of effort” level.

The court decisions and the amount came up briefly during the Tuesday, Feb. 12, special school board meeting on a preliminary budget estimate for the first year of the schools merger.

Just before his appointment as interim superintendent, Hopson told the countywide school board the amount is still due and transfers to the merged school district.

“If we got the money, it would go to the fund balance,” he told school board member Kevin Woods at Tuesday’s meeting. “The board could use some of it or all of it.”

Meanwhile, Wharton said Tuesday his administration is still considering keeping Memphis Police officers stationed at city schools post-merger.

“It’s still possible. I’m working with some of the (City) Council members on it,” Wharton said after the third in a series of state of the city speeches at the Memphis Rotary Club. “I’m looking at it in a broader context.

“An officer working at a particular school is in contact with the precinct down the street,” he said. “There is no impenetrable wall between the community and the school. What happens after school shows up in school. What happens in school shows up out of school.”

Wharton also said some continuity might be lost in the transition to Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies replacing Memphis Police officers now in the schools.

“I’m looking at it from a broader perspective than how much money are we putting in it,” he said.

There are some different dollar figures for how much a city decision to keep Memphis Police in what are now Memphis City Schools would mean.

The Shelby County Commission gave Sheriff Bill Oldham $2.5 million extra to take over for police in Memphis City Schools. Oldham said that was what he would need for his department to staff the additional schools.

But Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said later the amount needed is closer to $5 million with the funding for Oldham being a start to “ramp-up” operations.

Wharton said it is unlikely the city would directly fund the consolidated school system because of the court ruling on the city’s maintenance of effort obligations.

“We spent years getting out from under the maintenance of effort and there is absolutely no appetite whatsoever to get back into that,” he said. “I don’t see any practical way that we would be involved in staffing.”

Shelby County Commission chairman Mike Ritz also indicated Tuesday he plans to pursue actions against any Shelby County Schools employees hired after Sept. 1, 1986, who live outside Shelby County.

Ritz asked Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken to look into whether any school system employees hired after the county government residency requirement took effect live outside Shelby County despite the requirement in the county charter.

Aitken replied that he and his staff have concluded there are 169 such county schools employees – 111 certified employees and 58 non-certified.

“I think I need to now ask SCS what is going to be the remedy for this violation of the County Charter,” Ritz wrote Tuesday in response to the information from Aitken. “Did any SCS administrators advise these employees that they could ignore this requirement? … I believe there will be considerable concern from many commissioners re these 169 violations of the charter.”

The County Commission on Monday passed an ordinance on the first of three readings that gives Memphis City Schools teachers and other employees living outside the county five years to move within the county. It also exempts any MCS employee hired before Sept. 1, 1986, from the residency requirement.

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