Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he will seek funding before the new fiscal year that begins July 1 for a new Westhaven Elementary School and possibly two other new schools in southeast and northwest Shelby County.
The strategy behind the move is that Shelby County Commissioners who approve and fund such capital projects and approve all local funding of the school system would not have to provide a proportionate share of capital funding to the six suburban school systems that open with the new school year.
The proportionate capital funding is based on average daily attendance, which schools and political leaders refer to as ADA.
“If the County Commission grants the funding this year, the ADA will not be in play,” Hopson said as he prepares for the first budget session Friday, March 7, with school board members.
The board voted to close Westhaven Elementary School last month but also voted to push for county funding to build a new school on the site of the school that would also take in students from nearby Fairley and Raineshaven Elementary, where Westhaven students will be zoned in the coming school year.
“What you will essentially be doing is closing down two other schools and making one out of three,” Hopson said. “There will be a lot of efficiencies there.”
School board chairman Kevin Woods said he’s talked with county commissioners since the closing decision about supporting a Westhaven funding request.
“This was not a political punt by the board and leaving it in the hands of the County Commission,” Woods said. “This is not an additional cost to taxpayers. This is actually a cost savings opportunity. You are talking about three schools very close to one another in a community some would say has been neglected from a capital improvements standpoint.”
Meanwhile, Hopson said there are two other areas of the school system, post-demerger, where he and the board could propose new schools.
“It’s booming in Southeast Shelby County. There certainly is enough population to support the building of a new school there,” he said of the area where the new Belle Forest Community School opened this past August. “There are also some portions in the Bartlett area in Northwest Shelby County. It will be a comprehensive request because we know the realities are that while the Shelby County Commission has not funded capital requests in a while, this is the last year they can do it without having to spend additional money. We hope that for the good of the whole county and for efficiency sake, if they are inclined to do it, this will be the best or least expensive opportunity they have to do it.”
Meanwhile, Hopson’s calculation going into the four- to six-week process of budget meetings with the school board is that the school system’s budget will probably be $227 million less than the current fiscal year schools budget. Much of that is the result of the six suburban school systems starting classes in August and leaving a Shelby County Schools system that becomes the city of Memphis and the unincorporated areas of Shelby County including the annexation reserve areas of the six suburban towns and cities.
“We’re going to lose positions as a result of that,” Hopson said. “We’re going to lose also central office positions because if you have a smaller district to support, you need fewer positions.”
The smaller budget will almost certainly mean further changes to the classroom staffing formula or teacher-student ratio. But Hopson emphasized that it likely won’t be a complete return to the legacy Memphis City Schools staffing formula.
“Last year what we did was met in the middle,” he said, with the other end of the spectrum being the legacy Shelby County Schools staffing model. “We don’t want to go all the way back to the old Memphis staffing formula. … It’s probably about 250 teaching positions. That will be real positions.”
Hopson said that is balanced with the 1,100 teachers the school system hired at the start of the current school year.
“In this highly competitive market where people will say stuff and throw stuff out there in an effort to undermine or make the district look bad, if the board ultimately accepts this staffing formula, there’s no research that shows having 1 to 25 versus 1 in 26 … has any impact on the classroom,” Hopson said adding a teacher he recently talked with put the choice a different way.
“Would you rather have your daughter in a class with 27 other kids and there’s a highly effective teacher or with 25 other students and the teacher is just average?” Hopson said the teacher told him. “Give me the highly effective teacher with one more person.”