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VOL. 129 | NO. 89 | Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Suburban Schools Seek Share of $50 Million

By Bill Dries

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The leaders of Shelby County’s seven school systems are expected to make their cases before the Shelby County Commission Wednesday, May 7, for $50 million in capital funds the county set aside for the current fiscal year.

Shelby County Commissioners Heidi Shafer and Justin Ford are among the commissioners who will be hearing from leaders of Shelby County Schools and suburban schools leaders Wednesday about capital spending needs.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

Leaders of the six suburban school systems are seeking a share of the $50 million, and Shelby County Schools officials will be arguing the commission should give most of the money to their school system instead of splitting it among the seven systems based on average daily attendance (ADA).

The commission’s budget committee hears the matter at a 9 a.m. session, with no vote to be taken Wednesday. The full commission could vote on the matter Monday, May 12.

Shelby County Schools officials contend the commission can fund their list of capital projects without having to split the funding proportionately by average daily attendance if it does so in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The Shelby County Attorney’s office and the county’s bond counsel have said in written legal opinions that such an ADA exception would be legal because the suburban school systems are not considered legally formed until the new fiscal year starts July 1.

But Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell has said some projects on the Shelby County Schools’ list are not capital projects. Luttrell has also said he believes the suburban school systems should get a share of the $50 million in funding for their needs.

Meanwhile, the attorneys for all six suburban school systems have issued their own legal opinion, which distinguishes between the ADA requirement taking effect July 1 and the intent of the same state law that requires enrollment figures and state and county funding committed to the new school system.

“As of the date of this opinion, the municipal districts are properly formed, have elected boards of education, have enrollment figures and have (state) and local county funds committed to them via the Tennessee Commissioner of Education according to their projected attendance figures for the 2014-15 school year,” reads the May 2 legal opinion signed by the attorneys for all six school systems.

The Germantown Municipal Schools board approved a resolution Monday evening calling for the commission to split the money.

“We have Riverdale Elementary School that for multiple years has had 26 portables at that school. And it’s over capacity,” said Germantown Schools superintendent Jason Manuel. “We need some renovations to that school. And some of the proposals from Shelby County Schools are recommending additions to schools that are decreasing in enrollment. That’s a problem for us because we’ve had this need. This need has existed in Germantown schools for years.”

Collierville Schools superintendent John Aitken has said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind the Headlines” that he believes suburban schools should get a share of the money as well.

Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said his school system has more limited funds for such projects because Shelby County Schools receives funding only from the county, while the suburban school districts get additional funding from their respective communities.

The SCS wish list includes funding for a new roof at Millington Central High School, which is part of the Millington Schools system. The board voted down a motion to include another $800,000 for a new roof at Lakeland Elementary School.

Meanwhile, the Germantown Municipal Schools board approved Monday, May 5, a tentative $47.1 million budget for the coming fiscal year and school year that includes the school system opting out of shared services with other municipal school districts for in-house nutrition services, purchasing services and employee benefits services.

The board vote was 3-2 in favor, reflecting the debate among the five members over the shared services plan.

Most on the board said they favored Germantown Schools providing those services and others within the school system’s budget. But the debate was whether it would be possible to do that within the timeframe and budget of the system’s first year.

Manuel said bringing the nutrition, purchasing and employee benefits services in house involves an extra cost of approximately $80,000 with what had been part-time positions being made full time.

With the added expense, it leaves the school system with about a $450,000 reserve if the budget is approved by the Germantown Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

The school board delayed votes on other shared-services agreements among the six suburban school systems to await bids from those who would provide the services.

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