VOL. 127 | NO. 98 | Friday, May 18, 2012
Cost Analysis Sparks Little Reaction
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz noted that before he finished his presentation Wednesday, May 16, on how much municipal school systems in the suburbs could cost, other commissioners had already emailed the proposal to suburban mayors backing the move to municipal school districts.
Ritz’s conclusion that the costs to the suburbs would be far above those estimated by the consulting group advising the six suburban towns and cities prompted only a few questions.
“If they create it and they miss the numbers considerably or the school system isn’t as good as they hoped, it’s going to be very difficult to unwind those school systems,” Ritz said in an appeal to suburban voters who appear likely to vote in a set of August referendums on the formation of the districts. “I think they should start asking some pretty hard questions of those who are sponsoring and those who are using these reports. I don’t believe they have adequately budgeted even close to what it is going to cost.”
The only overt criticism of Ritz’s estimates came from commissioner Chris Thomas.
“I want to thank all of you city commissioners who have fought the suburbs on this who all of a sudden care,” Thomas said.
Away from the commission, Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald termed Ritz's estimates and conclusions "baloney."
"He assumes we are going to have to pay 50 percent for the builidngs. That's just some number grabbed out of the air," McDonald said Thursday. "He chose to use a 10 percent inflation figure. If that applies to us, that applies to the unified school system which means we receive more average daily attendance dollars -- so we would actually get more funding."
Meanwhile, Thomas posted on Facebook that “some county commissioners are trying to scare you into voting against muni schools.”
“You need to look to your mayor and aldermen and ask questions then decide,” Thomas continued. “Do not listen to people who do not have your interests at heart.”
But county commissioner Brent Taylor who supports the referendums on municipal school districts being planned by suburban leaders said he also has his doubts about the initial financial figures from Southern Educational Strategies LLC, the company hired by each of the six suburban towns and cities.
“I can assure you that it would cost the municipalities more than 15 cents on the (property) tax rate,” he said, referring to the recommendation for minimum local funding in the SES reports before turning to Ritz’s estimates.
“If it were 50 percent accurate, it’s still going to cost a lot more than 15 cents on the tax rate,” Ritz said. “But I’m for self determination. … They deserve to have all of the information and what the cost could be.”
The report from Ritz is not likely to be followed by any resolution or recommendation by the full County Commission.
And the boards of aldermen in several of the suburban towns and cities continue to move toward setting referendums on the municipal school district question for the Aug. 2 ballot.
If voters approve the general idea and an accompanying local options sales tax rate hike that would substitute for a property tax hike, then voters in those towns and cities would move to school board elections on the Nov. 6 ballot.