VOL. 129 | NO. 140 | Monday, July 21, 2014
County Commission Continues Prekindergarten Debate
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Commissioners pick up Monday, July 21, where they left off earlier in the month about a way to fund prekindergarten programs.
The commission faces dueling resolutions, with one setting up further study on an expansion, and the other dedicating $3 million in surplus funds from the just-ended fiscal year and the first $3 million of any surplus from the current fiscal year to Shelby County Schools and the suburban school systems.
Commissioner Steve Basar is proposing the further pre-K study and coordination. Commissioner Steve Mulroy and Commission Chairman James Harvey are proposing the direct and immediate financial commitment.
The commission meets Monday at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith Administration Building, 160 N. Main St.
Follow the meeting on Twitter at @tdnpols, www.twitter.com/tdnpols.
The discussion began over $2.8 million in sales tax revenue in unincorporated Shelby County. That would replace the 4 cents on the county property tax rate outside the city of Memphis to pay the debt on Arlington High School.
The commission voted earlier this month to take the 4 cents off the tax rate, as favored and proposed by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.
Luttrell then said he was prepared to commit the $3 million surplus to prekindergarten funding with an outside entity evaluating how to build and sustain the county’s commitment and “build objective credibility” around the prekindergarten effort.
Mulroy questions the need for what he sees as a middleman when Shelby County Schools has experience managing prekindergarten programs.
Luttrell frames the issue in the context of two sales tax hike proposals each voted down by voters in the space of a year, ending with last November’s rejection of a citywide sales tax hike. The other was a countywide sales tax increase rejected by voters in the city of Memphis and in unincorporated Shelby County.
Backers of both ballot questions said the revenue would go to prekindergarten programs.
Luttrell says the citywide sales tax hike had a better and more specific plan than the countywide sales tax hike. But he believes it was defeated because voters had a “lack of confidence in government’s ability to run a pre-K program.”
“You find very few people who are opposed to pre-K,” he added, saying the public might accept an effort to “pull together interested partners in the community that have an interest in pre-K and look for a way to sustain this going forward.”
Mulroy disagrees on the lessons of the citywide referendum.
“I don’t believe that the lesson of the failed referendum … was that the public said, ‘We don’t ever want to trust government to do pre-K,’” he said in the commission’s discussion of the issue earlier this month. “I think they were perfectly happy to trust SCS to do pre-K. I think they had some issues about whether they trusted the Memphis city government to spend the money on pre-K.”
Luttrell said Mulroy’s proposal is too “short-term” in its outlook.
“We’re talking about a structured process we are trying to put in place. We’re going to ready, shoot, aim. We are going to ready, aim, shoot,” he said. “We’re going to put a plan in place that really deals with sustainability.”
Mulroy counters that there is no need to delay the immediate funding.
“Until we find that new way, why not expand the system we have right now so more children can get pre-K?” he said. “You can always change your system to whatever it is you want to do later on.”
Also on Monday’s agenda is a $220,000 one-year contract between county government and the Community Alliance for the Homeless to provide services to the homeless. The contract includes three one-year renewal options as well.
Under terms of the contract, the alliance would manage grants and coordinate initiatives that involve multiple agencies as well as maintain a database and clinical services toward the goals set in the Mayors’ Action Plan. Its broad goal is to end homelessness in Shelby County.
The commission also votes Monday on a new five-year contract for Shelby County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Karen E. Chancellor. Chancellor was first appointed medical examiner in 2004.
Earlier this year, she also become deputy chief state medical examiner for Tennessee over the Western Division. And she is a professor of pathology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. The university has the contract to run the forensic center for Shelby County government.
And the commission considers two resolutions totaling $28.3 million in state transportation grant money for the widening and reconstruction of Walnut Grove Road from Rocky Point Road to Houston Levee Road and the widening of Houston Levee Road from Walnut Grove Road to the Wolf River Bridge.