VOL. 132 | NO. 79 | Thursday, April 20, 2017
Strickland Willing To Talk About Schools Funding, But Budget Set
By Bill Dries
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland says his budget proposal to the Memphis City Council is set and ready to deliver next week. But he added Tuesday, April 18, that he is willing to talk with the citizens who drafted a letter to him last week calling on the city to put up $10 million in funding for schools in his proposal.
“Our budget had already been set about 10 days prior to that,” Strickland said of the letter he got Friday from the group “Fund Students First Coalition.”
“But I just got back into town … and I will formally respond to that this week,” he added.
The group of 17 citizens and 13 organizations are proposing a 50-50 mix of city funding for in-school and out-of-school efforts in an “education fund that will invest in efforts … that have a direct and measurable impact on students’ academic achievement and/or career development,” according to the letter to Strickland.
The coalition recommends using a nonprofit foundation to administer the city funds in order to avoid creating a “maintenance of effort” requirement for the city. The state law requires that a local government cannot drop or reduce its funding to a local school district unless the state verifies there is a drop in student attendance.
City Hall ran afoul of the law when the Memphis City Council cut funding to Memphis City Schools in 2008 and the school system took the city to court and won.
But the city’s funding obligation under maintenance of effort ended in 2013 when Memphis City Schools merged with Shelby County Schools.
Asked about the possibility of city funding for the current SCS that avoids a maintenance of effort obligation for the city, Strickland said there is more to the issue.
“Whether it thwarts the will of the public who voted to give up the (MCS) charter. And one of the two reasons they voted for it was they were tired of paying two taxes – a county and a city tax,” Strickland said, citing the March 2010 city referendum to give up the Memphis City Schools charter.
That set the stage for the merger of the county’s two public school systems, followed a year later by the demerger of public education countywide into seven public school systems.
“I just really need more time to look at it and respond. I’m excited, though, that some new voices are coming to the table to support public education,” Strickland said, mentioning his sponsorship as a council member of a citywide referendum on funding for universal pre-kindergarten. The measure was defeated by voters.
“I see some names on that list that weren’t involved in the campaign,” he said. “I would love to work with them to support public education.”