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Battles over school resources in Shelby County continue even after budget projections are released

J. Zubrzycki

Nearly six months after Shelby County Schools and six towns in the county settled a longstanding lawsuit and cleared the way for six new school systems to open next year in the suburbs of Memphis, just how county resources—in this case, capital improvement funds—should be divided among the districts is still disputed.

The current 140,000-student Shelby County district was formed last July when Memphis City Schools merged with neighboring, suburban Shelby County Schools in an effort to stabilize funding for schools within the city. Leaders from six towns within legacy Shelby County Schools planned first to evade the merger, and then, when that effort failed, to create six new smaller school districts.

After a series of lawsuits and political battles, the six towns all voted to raise local sales taxes to help fund the districts, and Shelby County Schools transferred buildings to the new districts this winter.

But just how student enrollment and funding would fall out among the districts in the county has been in question. State funding to school districts is based on student enrollment, and the yet-to-be created districts did not have any students enrolled.

In April, the Tennessee education department provided estimates based on enrollment projections for Shelby County Schools and the six municipalities. (See embedded documents below.) The boards of Shelby County Schools and the six new districts in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland, and Millington have been planning for the 2014-15 school years using the projections.

But attorneys for the new suburban school systems say that having those numbers means that the suburban districts should also be entitled to capital improvement dollars for building improvements from the county, the Commercial Appeal reported yesterday.

The county commission is not currently planning to fund capital improvements in the municipalities next year, based on the county attorney’s opinion that the municipal districts do not exist yet and so the commission had no basis for fairly dividing the funds. In future years, the commission will have to ensure that capital funding for Shelby County Schools and the municipal districts is distributed fairly based on enrollment.

The Shelby County district is requesting $52 million in capital funding from the county commission, which will consider the request tomorrow.

From the Commercial Appeal:

[In March, Shelby County Schools] Supt. Dorsey Hopson indicated there was an urgency to have the work done before July 1 because the new municipal systems would officially exist after that date, and the county would not be required to add money to the CIP [Capital Improvement Projects] request to satisfy the average daily attendance split with the suburban districts.

Kevin Woods, chairman of Shelby County Schools, said Monday night that the system’s $52 million request was based on the needs of Shelby County Schools that remained after the suburbs split from the overall system, although he noted the request includes some improvements at Millington High. He said the suburban schools have “every right” to separately seek more capital funds from the county commission, but that is a debate those boards must have with the commission and shouldn’t impact the county school board’s request.

Suburban leaders told the Commercial Appeal they hope the county commission reconsiders its plans to fund improvements solely in Shelby County Schools.

Shelby County Schools projected BEP:
Arlington’s BEP:
Millington’s projected BEP:
Lakeland’s BEP:
Germantown’s BEP:
Collierville BEP:
Bartlett BEP:

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