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VOL. 133 | NO. 109 | Thursday, May 31, 2018

County Commission Asked to Fill SCS Budget Gap

By Bill Dries

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With the Shelby County Schools system’s $1 billion budget delivered to Shelby County commissioners Wednesday, May 30, county government’s consolidated budget started to come into focus.

The numbers remain a little fuzzy because there is still a budget surplus for the current fiscal year that ends June 30 to be considered. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell initially put the surplus at $18 million to $25 million. Then the administration fine-tuned that to $20 million. Some county commissioners think it’s closer to $25 million. Uses for the difference could include at least some of what the school system wants that the administration has not proposed or anticipated.

There’s also the matter of a county property tax rate that will inevitably go down because of the surplus windfall from the current $4.11 rate that overshot how many appeals of property reappraisals there would be in 2017. Luttrell wants to take the rate down to $4.05.

Shelby County Schools officials took a $12.7 million operating funding gap in their budget proposal to the Shelby County Commission Wednesday, May 30. (Daily News File/Houston Cofield)

Funding for the county’s largest public school system, especially its capital needs, determines how much money county government has for other functions and line items.

Of the county’s $1.3 billion consolidated budget proposal, funding for all seven public school systems is north of $400 million before specifics are considered. That’s because the county can’t lower the basic amount of local schools funding, known as “maintenance of effort” by state law and court decisions.

That funding is divided on the basis of average daily attendance for each school system. And at around 100,000 students, SCS gets the lion’s share of the split.

With the SCS budget proposal approved by the SCS board Tuesday evening, May 29, the school system is formally seeking $12.7 million more from the county.

In his budget proposal, Luttrell proposed a $7.8 million increase split among all seven public school systems, bringing the total to $427 million.

The SCS budget includes $24.5 million in pay raises for teachers as well as hiring more guidance counselors and behavioral specialists, and $18 million toward school safety measures. Those are the two largest parts of $66.2 million in “strategic investments” that superintendent Dorsey Hopson and the school board argue are necessary to keep SCS on track to improve student achievement.

Luttrell proposed $53 million in capital projects – the administration’s limit is $75 million on annual capital budget requests.

Other highlights of the proposed SCS budget include $90.2 million in capital projects, topped by $45 million total to replace the existing Alcy and Goodlett elementary schools that will allow SCS to close three other schools nearby and consolidate those students into the new, larger Alcy and Goodlett schools. Another $19.2 million in capital projects is for classroom additions at 10 schools where attendance is up. The remaining $25.9 million is for deferred maintenance at 38 schools – most of the projects involving new roofs or HVAC systems.

Hopson’s budget plan also includes the use of $49 million from the school system’s fund balance or reserves – up from Hopson’s original estimate of $35 million.

While the County Commission approves a total dollar amount for the school system budget, it has no line-item control over what the school system spends the money on. The other side of that equation is that the school board has no taxing authority of its own to create a revenue stream that comes directly to it.

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 76 133 1,342
MORTGAGES 83 131 1,047
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 8 19 170
BUILDING PERMITS 190 277 3,028
BANKRUPTCIES 39 73 691
BUSINESS LICENSES 12 22 298
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0