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Board presses Shelby County for wheel tax autonomy for Memphis schools

Former Shelby County Board of Education Chairwoman Teresa Jones confers with then Superintendent Dorsey Hopson during a 2015 school board meeting. Jones' seat is now up for an interim appointment.
Former Shelby County Board of Education Chairwoman Teresa Jones confers with then Superintendent Dorsey Hopson during a 2015 school board meeting. Jones' seat is now up for an interim appointment.
Kayleigh Skinner

Seeking to balance its budget next year, Shelby County’s school board is asking the County Commission to give the district greater flexibility in spending wheel tax revenue for education.

The board unanimously passed a resolution Thursday encouraging the commission to allocate all of the county’s $32 million wheel tax money for school operations. Currently, half is allocated for capital improvements and the other half goes to operations.

With the change, the cash-strapped district would have about $12 million more for operating its 189 schools.

“We desperately need it for operating expenses,” said Chairwoman Teresa Jones, who sponsored the resolution. “ … I think that if that money is allocated, it will cure a structural deficit that we had for a number of years and hopefully going forward we won’t have these large budget deficits.”

The commission’s budget committee is slated to make its recommendations on education spending on June 15, with a vote before the full commission on June 20.

The district is seeking an additional $35 million in local funding, and changing the wheel tax allocation would help to address that.

At last week’s hearing, county administrators and commissioners worried that reallocating the money could hinder the district’s ability to make needed capital improvements. Commissioner David Reaves said the change could reduce the district’s incentive for addressing an excess in facilities.

Wheel tax revenue is split among Shelby County’s seven school districts based on enrollment, with Shelby County Schools getting 78 percent.

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