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VOL. 129 | NO. 92 | Monday, May 12, 2014

Commission Votes on Schools Funding

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioners vote Monday, May 12, on $47.3 million in immediate capital funding for Shelby County Schools in a decision that pits a majority on the commission against County Mayor Mark Luttrell.

LUTTRELL

The commission meets at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building, 160 N. Main St.

Follow the commission meeting on Twitter at @tdnpols, www.twitter.com/tdnpols.

Luttrell offered his own capital funding resolution for the schools system totaling $16.9 million. The school system requested $51.6 million and specifically requested that it be approved before the June 30 end of the current fiscal year to avoid having to split the funding with the six suburban school systems proportionally based on average daily attendance of each system.

“What we are really appealing … is a different process of approving these requests.” Luttrell said in the Wednesday, May 7, committee sessions. “First of all, a $52 million ask in the last six weeks of the fiscal year is extremely difficult to accomplish.”

In the committee sessions, commissioners approved a substitute resolution offered by Commissioner Steve Mulroy for the $47.3 million amount, which keeps in the plan $12 million to build a new Westhaven Elementary School and more for a set of four additions of 20 classrooms each at four elementary schools. The funding would also be used for renovations and improvements to Germantown High School, which remains a part of Shelby County Schools in the demerger into seven systems that begins with the new academic year.

Shelby County Schools board chairman Kevin Woods said after Mulroy’s substitute plan garnered 10 votes in committee that the school system can live with the slightly lower amount.

County attorneys and attorneys for Shelby County Schools have said the requirement to split funding by average daily attendance does not take effect until the new fiscal year. But the attorneys for all six suburban school systems issued a legal opinion saying it applies now because the suburban school systems know how many students they will have and also have word from state education leaders on the amount of state funding their school systems can expect.

RITZ

Commissioner Mike Ritz questioned Luttrell on even making a recommendation to the commission.

“Why did you pick this program this year, when for instance two years ago I know you all were concerned about the reports the consultants were giving the suburbs about how much their schools were going to cost? We talked about it,” Ritz said as he criticized the 2012 estimates leaders in each of the six suburbs got for how much it would cost them to operate a school system.

“But you never weighed in with the commission on these ridiculous reports,” he continued. “Why are you deciding this year to weigh in and frankly decimate the process that we all knew was coming?”

Luttrell disagreed that his approach would “decimate” the process, and he said he has remained involved in the historic changes in local public education in the last four years, starting with the Memphis City Schools board’s December 2010 move to the schools merger, which Luttrell opposed.

“I’ve always kind of let those comments pass because I’ve kind of scratched my head wondering where in the world are you coming from with that assessment,” he said of Ritz’s question about why the mayor would involve the administration in school funding. “As long as debt accrues to the county and you’re going to hold me responsible for managing debt, then I’m going to be involved. Any time the school system presents a budget that could have a potential impact on the property tax, I’m going to be involved. Any time you pass a resolution that I have to sign, I’m going to be involved.”

Luttrell said he didn’t take issue with the Shelby County Schools list as much as he did the timing of the funding and what he sees as the need for a vetting process that looks at all of the school systems.

But most on the commission rejected the need for such a study.

“We don’t need a study,” Mulroy said. “The administration has decided to pick and choose.”

Commissioner Henri Brooks called school conditions in the Shelby County Schools system “deplorable.”

“I don’t want to second guess them,” she said of schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson and his staff. “It’s just a fundamental case here.”

Hopson pointed to 200 percent capacity rates in the schools on the Shelby County Schools capital list and brought photos to make his point.

But Commissioner Mark Billingsley, one of the three no votes in committee, said the needs of all seven school systems should be prioritized.

“I have very serious needs in my district,” he said of schools in the Germantown Municipal Schools system. He specifically cited renovations needs and overcrowding with the use of portable classrooms for a long time at Riverdale Elementary School.

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