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VOL. 129 | NO. 84 | Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Schools Wish List Comes to $51 Million

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioners take their first budget vote next month on a $51 million capital list for Shelby County Schools in the current fiscal year.

And the recommendation from the administration of Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell to the commission in committee sessions next week might not be the same wish list submitted by Shelby County Schools leaders and approved by the school board earlier this month.

“Some of this we do not believe qualifies as (Capital Improvement Program) spending, so we are looking into some alternatives,” said county chief administrative officer Harvey Kennedy.

Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said he wants the capital spending items approved for the current fiscal year specifically to avoid having to split such funding proportionately with the six suburban school systems based on average daily attendance.

The ADA split, as it is called, doesn’t become a requirement until the July 1 start of the new fiscal year. The commission could vote on the list at its May 12 meeting. Shelby County Schools officials will be at May 7 committee sessions to make their case.

The school system’s list totals $51 million and the county has $50 million in capital funding set aside for schools capital needs from the current fiscal year.

“I’m not sure how we are going to do that,” Kennedy said. “We are going to submit a request that we think is appropriate for the current fiscal year. … We’ll get it into the system quickly. But it will not exceed the $50 million balance that’s left in the level for our debt service.”


Commissioner Steve Mulroy said he is anxious to compare the two capital spending wish lists if they differ and he wants to know which of the capital projects are priorities for the school system. The list includes $12 million for a new Westhaven Elementary School to replace the existing Westhaven as well as neighboring Fairley and Raineshaven elementary schools. There is also $16 million to add 20 classrooms each to four elementary schools.

“I think that there are ways to accommodate it. You could fund some of the projects with money other than CIP. You could even take some of it from the reserve fund. … I’m not sure that will be necessary,” Mulroy said. “We need to do as much as we possibly can this year when we don’t have to have the ADA split.”

Luttrell has said he believes the list should include some capital spending for school buildings in the suburban school districts to come even though it isn’t required.

The list approved by the school board this month includes $1 million for a new roof on Millington Central High School, in the Millington Schools system, which the board had made a priority before the demerger process began. But the board voted down an attempt to add funding for a new roof at Lakeland Elementary School, the only school in the Lakeland Schools system.

Mulroy has different ideas about capital spending for suburban school districts in the current fiscal year.

“I do think that the lion’s share of it ought to be the unified school system,” he said.

“The needs are greater in that part of the school system and there is an additional funding source available for the municipal school districts,” Mulroy added, referring to funding from the suburban towns and cities.


In other county budget developments, Commissioner Mike Ritz wants to explore shifting some county funding from the Community Services division of county government to youth programs including Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court.

“I’m going to request that the administration give us a report on what the impact would be of using at least 25 percent of the general fund-funded operations … for the youth of the community,” Ritz said at the end of Monday’s commission meeting. “I assume most of it would be to support things at Juvenile Court.”

Juvenile Court is in the midst of due process reforms that have dramatically changed how the court functions and the decisions it makes about detaining juveniles. The reforms are part of a settlement agreement between county government, the court and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The settlement followed a Justice Department investigation that concluded there were widespread due process violations in the court and that African-American children coming to the court faced disproportionately harsher punishments as well as transfers for trial as adults.

“We seem to have a lot of attention about Juvenile Court and the needs over there,” Ritz said. “While we do spend a lot of money in community services for adult criminal matters, we’re not spending anything there for the youth. It seems to me that maybe this would be a place where the commission might redirect.”

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