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Proposal to conduct $1.8 million school facilities study fails after debate over municipal buildings

Commissioner Mike Ritz proposed an amendment that would've lowered the building study cost from $1.8 to $1.2 million and given Shelby County Schools control.
Commissioner Mike Ritz proposed an amendment that would've lowered the building study cost from $1.8 to $1.2 million and given Shelby County Schools control.
Oliver Morrison

Divisive rhetoric about whether commissioners should include the six municipal districts’ buildings undermined funding for a study to determine the long term needs of old school buildings in Shelby County.The commissioners’ public works committee proposed that the county spend $1.8 million to “identify and prioritize the major maintenance and improvement needs” of Shelby County School buildings.The proposal failed in a split, six-to-six vote.The original request for a long-term building study made by Superintendent Dorsey Hopson 18 months ago included all of the schools in Shelby County. But since six municipalities formed their own districts this spring — taking about thirty percent of the county’s schools with them — several commissioners felt the study should exclude their schools.Commissioner Mike Ritz proposed lowering the cost of the study from $1.8 million to $1.2 million to exclude the municipal schools.“I know some of the people like to stick it to the suburbs any chance they get,” said Commissioner Terry Roland, who protested Ritz’s proposal. “But at the end of the day you’re hurting the kids in the district.” Roland added that this funding would come from the budget for 2013-2014, in which the municipal districts were still part of Shelby County Schools.Ritz and Commissioner Sidney Chism said that the study was just supposed to look at the state of old buildings and that most of the old buildings are located within the confines of legacy Memphis city schools, not the municipal districts.Commissioner Heidi Shafer said she is tired of all the fighting between advocates of the municipal districts and Shelby County Schools and argued that eventually the commission will need to know about buildings in every district. “For those of us who would like to move forward in something that is positive for the entire community, this really moves the community forward together as opposed to making it us against them,” said Shafer, who wanted to approve the full funding.Ritz also proposed turning control of the funds over to Shelby County Schools instead of the county. Although the study would be conducted by outside architects, Ritz said that it should be the district, not the county who should make the decision. That amendment failed.“Shelby County (commission) does not run the county schools, does not run the municipal schools, and I think it’s a little overreaching and paternalistic,” said Ritz.Other commissioners said they were more comfortable with leaving the county in charge of the study. Ritz’s proposal failed in a tied vote.Shelby County Schools has gone three years without any capital investments, according to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II.One school, Westhaven Elementary, was in need of so much repair, it was deemed unsafe by Hopson last spring and closed despite community protests.

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