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VOL. 126 | NO. 149 | Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Council to Approve Schools Budget

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members meet Tuesday, Aug. 2, to approve a budget for Memphis City Schools that is expected to include a monthly payment plan to cover $68.4 million in city funding.

Passage of the item on the regular council agenda would end a funding standoff between City Hall and Memphis City Schools that threatened to delay the Aug. 8 start of classes for the 2011-2012 school year.

The council meeting begins at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St.

Nine of the 12 council members attended a July 21 special council committee meeting to hold the annual review of the school system’s budget. The committee review was moved up as one of the conditions of resolving the dispute.

Terms of the payment plan were worked out just before and during the meeting among Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., MCS board president Martavius Jones and council member Shea Flinn as well as their respective attorneys.

The council vote was just a recommendation to the full body but because a majority of the full council was present it is an indicator of what Tuesday’s council vote is likely to be.

MCS board members accepted the payment plan Tuesday, July 26. The acceptance was conditioned on council approval this week. It came after the board voted to suspend the Aug. 8 start of classes and the rest of the school year calendar until it got several funding amounts from the city that varied over several days of meetings and discussions.

It was Wharton who suggested that the discussions center not on city funding from past fiscal years but city funding for the current fiscal year.

The city funding is part of an MCS operating budget totaling $884.7 million.

The funding dispute began in April 2008 when the council voted to cut city funding to MCS, which in turn took the city to court.

The payment plan totals $77 million, which includes a $3 million payment already made for July. That amount and $5.8 million of the $12 million payment due Aug. 5 would go toward money the city owes MCS for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

So even though the council is likely to lower the city’s funding of MCS from the $78 million the school system has requested to $68.4 million, MCS will effectively have $77 million in city funding for the fiscal year that began July 1. MCS board members could approve the use of $1 million from the school system’s reserve funding to reach the full amount.

Council members discussed and Flinn prepared a resolution to offer at Tuesday’s meeting that would lower the funding to $68.4 million citing a 2,500 student drop in enrollment as counted by the state of Tennessee.

Jones has acknowledged that legally the council can lower the funding because of the drop in student enrollment. He said the funding cut does not scuttle the agreement.

Also on the agenda is second of three readings of a referendum ordinance that would require a two-thirds vote of the council – nine votes – for the council to approve any tax hike of a higher percentage than the rate of inflation. The amendment to the city charter would go to Memphis voters on the Nov. 8, 2012, ballot.

During the council’s 2 p.m. executive session, council members will discuss the recent layoffs of city employees and a resolution by council member Joe Brown to reinstate a 4.6 percent pay cut for city employees the council approved in June when it approved the city budget for the current fiscal year.

Brown is one of several council members who have claimed they did not realize they were voting for the pay cut or a voluntary buyout of city sanitation workers.

Both actions prompted 13 unions representing city employees to file a lawsuit last month in Memphis federal court. They claim the actions violate memoranda of understanding between the city and the unions in which the unions agreed they would not seek and would not get pay raises in the current fiscal year, but never agreed to pay cuts or the buy out.

The Tuesday council session also will be the first for interim council member Berlin Boyd, appointed last month to the District 7 seat.

His appointment brings the council back to its full 13-member strength for the first time since late last year when District 7 council member Barbara Swearengen Ware was indicted on an official misconduct charge and automatically suspended from all council duties under terms of the city charter.

PROPERTY SALES 106 212 6,230
MORTGAGES 111 232 6,953
BUILDING PERMITS 88 304 13,617
BANKRUPTCIES 46 168 4,261