Shelby County leaders have approved a request for $12.7 million for Memphis schools, but, unlike in years past, the district is not guaranteed to get all of that again next year.
The decision to approve the budget sets in motion an action that meets the district’s needs for now, but prevents each of the county’s school systems from fully benefiting from the county’s expected surplus in tax revenue.
That’s because about half of that money will go toward one-time costs. This is important because unless a district’s student population declines, state law requires the county to pay local districts at least as much as the previous year for ongoing expenses. But the county is under no obligation to carry over payment for one-time expenses such as textbooks or furniture.
The full commission wanted to approve the entire $12.7 million for Shelby County Schools and earmark that money for ongoing expenses. The district’s original plan was to use the money for costs such as hiring more school resource officers and reading specialists, improving the district’s workforce training classes, and adding more advanced courses.
But Mayor Mark Luttrell’s administration, which is advocating for a property tax cut, only wanted to approve $6.1 million. David Reaves, a commissioner and former school board member, suggested that some of that money be used for one-time costs.
So, in an unusual move, commissioners compromised by approving $6.1 million for continuing expenses, but signing off on the rest for one-time expenses only. That’s money the county is not required by the state to approve again next year.
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson praised the commission’s vote as “creative” to make ends meet even though their first choice was rejected.
“At the end of the day, we obviously want more dollars in that category because we have great needs, but we also know there’s a balancing act the commission has,” he said after the meeting. “I think it was a good resolution to a very complex situation.”
Exactly what that one-time payment will go toward is still being finalized, said Lin Johnson, the district’s chief of finance. The board must rework some of the budget because the district can’t use money for one-time expenses to pay for ongoing needs. School board members meet Tuesday for a work session and are expected to discuss it then.
Also as part of the commission’s vote on the district’s budget, a plan to fund preschool for low-income families was also approved. Read more in our story from last week.
The county is expecting up to $20 million extra in property taxes, which sparked the discussion on where it would go. Shelby County Schools plans to use $49 million of its savings account to pay for additional positions and programs, such as behavior specialists and school counselors, and adding American Way Middle School to the district’s Innovation Zone for chronically low-performing schools.
If the additional $6 million had been approved in the way Shelby County Schools originally requested, all seven districts in the county would have locked in more resources for years to come.
About 40 people representing six advocacy organizations rallied before the county commission meeting to push for a larger chunk of the extra funding to go to schools. As commissioners discussed the proposal, they applauded the smooth process.
“We put this thing together and got an agreement on it,” said Commissioner Eddie Jones.