Shelby County Schools board members take up a $52.6 million capital funding request Tuesday, March 25, that superintendent Dorsey Hopson would take to the Shelby County Commission for funding.
And the board votes as well Tuesday on setting attendance zones for the school year that begins in August – the first school year of the demerger into six suburban school systems as well as a Shelby County Schools system that becomes the city of Memphis and the unincorporated areas of Shelby County.
Hopson is seeking approval by the school board and the Shelby County Commission for the capital funding before the end of the current fiscal year to avoid a requirement that any county funding starting in the new fiscal year must be divided based on the average daily attendance of each public school system within Shelby County. That means some share of funding for each of the seven school systems even if only one school system formally requests funding.
“The municipalities are in a situation that we’re not in,” Hopson said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.” “They can always have the municipality issue bonds to pay for some of that capital project. Shelby County Schools doesn’t have a municipality that will issue bonds on its behalf.”
The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell says the funding is there based on three years’ worth of capital funding county government has set aside for schools at roughly $55 million per fiscal year.
“I’m not surprised that they have a laundry list of issues to bring forward. What we’ve got to do is our due diligence on that and ask some of the tough questions,” Luttrell said. “Money is set aside for them each year in capital improvements out of our $75 million capital improvements budget. We’ve earmarked $55 million. We don’t always spend that but it’s set aside for them.”
Hopson is proposing the capital funding to build a new Westhaven Elementary School to be built on the site of the current Westhaven School and take students from that school as well as neighboring Fairley and Raineshaven elementary schools. Also on the list are four additions of 20 classrooms each to Berclair, Wells Station, Chimneyrock and Cordova elementary schools.
“The reason we did that was to avoid an ask to build another new school in the southeast part of the county,” Hopson said, referring to Belle Forest Community School in southeast Memphis, which opened with the current school year.
And Germantown High School would get a new 20-classroom addition as well as other improvements and upgrades.
The list of projects takes in a total of 19 schools.
“I knew it was forthcoming,” Luttrell said of the request, which was also anticipated by several county commissioners.
“It’s not going to disrupt the budget,” he added. “You always make sure. You don’t spend that kind of money without asking tough questions.”
The tough questions on the commission are likely to come from Commissioner Terry Roland.
Roland, in a Friday letter to Luttrell, said he found the timing of Hopson’s request to beat the Americans With Disabilities Act requirement “appalling.”
“Most all of the schools in Shelby County are in need of funding to catch back up on deferred maintenance and we certainly must work diligently to alleviate overcrowding,” Roland wrote. “However, there is a difference between picking and choosing school districts when it comes to funding.”
Roland said he has supported construction of a new Westhaven Elementary School.
“However, with the same amount of enthusiasm I also supported funding a new roof for the Millington Central High School gymnasium and the roof at Kingsbury High,” he said.
Hopson is unapologetic for the timing of the request.
“The reality is that at this point in time, the municipal schools aren’t up and running,” he said. “So there is not a school district in these municipalities that can ask for capital. I think what should be the driver should be need. Most of the stuff that we’re asking for, this is stuff that’s long, long overdue.”
Meanwhile, Hopson indicated last week he might delay a scheduled vote Tuesday by the school board on a tentative general fund operating budget resolution totaling nearly $961.3 million. If there is a delay, the school board might meet in special session next month to approve the amount.
And Hopson again said the school system would probably seek some way to continue using state Common Core achievement standards if the Tennessee legislature approves a two-year delay in further roll out of the standards and it becomes law.
“We spent three years and millions of dollars getting ready for this shift. We are already in many of our schools rolling out Common Core and people are teaching in that manner anyway,” he said. “I don’t know if you slow down and do what? … The rest of the nation is moving forward.”