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VOL. 129 | NO. 67 | Monday, April 7, 2014

Luttrell Wants Suburban Schools Consideration in Funding Split

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell has a pretty good idea what is on the $52.6 million capital spending “ask” list Shelby County Schools is sending his way.


As of last week, he still didn’t have the list on his desk. But when it gets there, Luttrell wants to talk with school system leaders and county commissioners about whether there should be more spending items for the schools that become part of the six suburban school systems in August.

“I am concerned a little bit. Right now there’s no requirement for ADA-ing that money,” Luttrell said of the proportional split to come among the county’s seven public school systems based on average daily attendance. Shelby County Schools leaders plan to avoid the split by asking for the funding now. “I am concerned that the schools outside of the city of Memphis – the municipal school districts – are claiming that they deserve part of that consideration. I want to be sensitive to the municipal school systems.”

On Shelby County Schools’ list of capital projects is a new roof for Millington Central High School. But the school board voted down an attempt to add a new roof at Lakeland Elementary School.

Luttrell acknowledged he is hearing from suburban schools leaders about their needs going into their first year of operation.

“I do think that the municipal school districts have an argument, certainly a consideration,” he said. “This year, for legal reasons, the ADA doesn’t apply, but yet the municipalities say, ‘We still have a need.’ When you look at county government, it has a responsibility for what will be seven school districts.”

Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson, however, has said his school system has only one source of local funding – Shelby County government – while the suburban school systems have both the county and their respective municipal governments.

The capital funding for schools has been set aside during the merger and the demerger of public education in Shelby County, and Luttrell has said there is funding to finance the school system’s capital list without impacting the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

But Luttrell said that in addition to the suburban concerns, he and his staff will be examining which projects are immediate and which can wait for future fiscal years.

Luttrell delivered his $1.1 billion consolidated county government budget to commissioners last week.

It also reflects the transition in funding from merger to demerger, with Luttrell keeping the county’s overall education funding at $382 million in his proposal. But the difference is the $382 million is spread across seven school systems instead of the one system this fiscal year.

“We are in the second year of a three-year reset of the maintenance of effort,” Luttrell said, referring to the state requirement that local governments cannot reduce their funding to school systems unless there has been an applicable drop in enrollment. The maintenance of effort reset, to be determined by state education officials, is a result of the schools merger and demerger.

“I think, going forward, just the cost of doing business is going to require us to look at some increase in education spending,” Luttrell added. “But I’d like for us to work through this three-year reset so we can get a good handle on what that cost is going to be.”

Another result of the coming demerger is the elimination of the separate county property tax rate for the county outside Memphis, which is a result of rural school bonds used to finance the construction of Arlington High School. The rural school bonds make the county property tax rate outside Memphis 4 cents higher than the county property tax rate within Memphis.

“With the transitioning of the school system, we really needed to get this rural school bond issue resolved,” he said. “We just felt in fairness that the residents of the school district in Millington shouldn’t be paying for the high school in Arlington.”

Luttrell also proposes to shave a penny off the current county property tax rate, which the commission raised to $4.38 last budget season. Each penny on the tax rate produces $1.6 million in revenue for the county, and Luttrell said there is a “slight uptick” in revenue collections as well as government efficiencies and less county money going to pay the county’s debt.

With the 1-cent drop in the rate, Luttrell is proposing a 2.5 percent general salary increase for county government employees. Elected officials holding countywide offices outside the county administration agreed to finance the same percentage pay raise for their workers out of their separate budgets.

Luttrell said the agreement was crucial to be able to afford the pay raise.

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