Shelby County Commissioners rejected Wednesday, May 7, a plan by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell to give Shelby County Schools $13.9 million in capital funding for the current fiscal year instead of a much larger amount the school system requested.
With all 13 commissioners present for budget committee sessions the day after county primary elections, the 10-3 committee vote for $47.3 million in capital funding instead was a strong indication of what is likely to happen Monday when the full commission votes on the matter.
The 10-vote block included all seven Democratic commissioners as well as Republican Commissioners Terry Roland and Steve Basar.
The committee vote was a recommendation and the recommendation was an amendment by Commissioner Steve Mulroy that took out some funding for safety items the school system had included in its original request for $57 million.
It is Mulroy’s substitute that is on Monday’s commission agenda with the committee decision.
The school system wants the money, held in reserve by county government specifically for school needs, this fiscal year to avoid having to split the money with suburban school systems based on average daily attendance in each of the seven school systems in Shelby County starting with the new fiscal year.
Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson showed photos of overcrowded classrooms at several schools including areas that double as storage as well as portable classrooms.
“We know these kids are coming,” he said. “We know we don’t have space for them now.”
He also argued that unlike suburban school systems who get county funding and other local funding from their respective town and city governments, Shelby County Schools has only one source of local funding – Shelby County government.
As the commission debated in committee Wednesday, attorneys for the suburban school systems watched the proceedings. The attorneys for all six suburban school systems issued a legal opinion last week saying they believe such funding does have to be split based on attendance estimates for all seven school systems. The Shelby County Attorney’s office has issued a legal opinion saying it does not.
Luttrell argued that some of the capital projects for Shelby County Schools could wait and should be part of a facilities study his administration would undertake at a cost of approximately $1 million.
But Mulroy and Commissioner Mike Ritz disagreed sharply, saying the needs have been known for months.
“Why did you pick this program?” Ritz asked Luttrell, saying he should have been more vocal and critical of initial cost estimates suburban leaders presented in 2012 of how much it would cost to run their school districts.
“Why decimate this process?” he added.
“We don’t need a study,” Mulroy said later. “We’ve already got a backlog. The administration has decided to pick and choose.”
Commissioner Walter Bailey asked if Luttrell was saying the school system’s leadership was not competent to assess its needs.
“I don’t know,” Luttrell replied, adding a study would clarify the needs of all seven school systems to come. “We are in a period of transition. To say anything is the norm is a reach.”