VOL. 131 | NO. 123 | Tuesday, June 21, 2016
County Commission Delays Budget Votes, Germantown School Talks Surface
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Commissioners delayed final votes on all of the budget matters before them Monday, June 20, until a special meeting next week.
And a proposed sale of two Germantown schools surfaced in the middle of another marathon budget session for commissioners.
The delay in advance of the July 1 start of the new fiscal year signaled a renewed press by the administration of Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell to get the commission to reject $3.5 million more in county funding for Shelby County Schools.
That’s $3.5 million beyond the $21.2 million in new funding the county would provide. The school system would come up with the remaining $3.5 million to get the $24.7 million it is seeking from county government in new funding.
The 50-50 split of the $7 million difference between the administration’s last positon and the school system’s last positon was part of a compromise most commissioners backed last week. But the compromise began to unravel in the time between the Wednesday committee session and the Monday meeting of the full commission to vote on the compromise.
The result was Monday’s decision to delay all of the budget votes.
Some commissioners are seeking a unanimous vote on the school funding. Commissioner David Reaves conceded the seven votes to pass the original funding compromise were likely in place Monday.
Meanwhile, commissioner Mark Billingsley mentioned a proposal by Germantown leaders to buy Germantown Elementary and Middle Schools from SCS for $5 million in cash as a way to resolve the gap in funding requests.
“Today I offer up to you a solution or at least part of a solution,” Billingsley said. “The city of Germantown is trying to be part of the solution.”
Both schools are within Germantown but remain part of Shelby County Schools.
The idea surfaced a month or so ago, according to Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson, as leaders of Germantown and the SCS system met to talk about agreements between the two for use of ballfields.
Germantown Mayor Mike Palazzolo brought up the capital needs of the Germantown school system, which is expanding Riverdale K-8 School. The school system has also discussed the possibility of a new k-8 school south of Poplar at some point in the future.
Hopson said he regards the offer as separate from the budget discussions and that the sale of the two schools is not a viable solution to the budget stand-off.
“Absolutely not,” he said, citing optional school programs and a 100 percent capacity level at the elementary school as well as an 80 percent capacity level at the middle school.
“The issue becomes so many of those students who attend those schools don’t live in Germantown,” Hopson said. “The sticking point was if Germantown gets those schools, what do you do with those kids?”
Hopson didn’t rule out further but separate talks on that issue.
Palazzolo said the possibility came up in talks last year and he renewed the topic again this year. He said the deal could be an $11 million savings for SCS in deferred maintenance and accumulated depreciation as well as operating costs.
Palazzolo said his goal is some kind of memorandum of understanding by December 1. And he said he understands that any deal on the schools would be separate from the budget considerations.
“I told him our deal is a business transaction,” Palazzolo said of his conversations with Hopson earlier in the day Monday. “That’s separate from whatever they come to terms with on their education funding. Our transaction is to buy two buildings. That’s what our aims are and our goals.”
The timing of Germantown’s move to new school construction is not quite halfway through the fiscal year that begins next week.
“We are in the planning stages of looking to build a k-8 on the south side of Germantown,” Palazzolo said. “We’ve got to start the concept planning, the design work, begin to look at property to accumulate. Right now, schools have been our greatest economic development tool of our city. We’ve got 400 kids right now more than we have seats for. We’ve got to build something or acquire buildings.”
Palazzolo also said there could be an interlocal agreement to cover students at both schools who live outside Germantown, which is the bulk of the 650 students at each of the schools.
“We’re willing to educate the children if they would like,” he said of a transition plan for the children now attending the two schools. “I would think they might want to take that revenue with them.”
Shelby County Schools kept the “three Gs” as they are known – Germantown Elementary, Middle and High Schools – in SCS during the negotiations on school buildings and other property during the demerger into seven school districts in a county that had one countywide public school system for one school year.
Hopson said the school system kept the three Gs because of capacity issues in that part of Memphis outside the Germantown borders.