<br />The charter issue by the numbers

Underneath the issue of whether to dissolve the Memphis City Schools charter – and essentially set up a Shelby County Special School District (SCSSD) – is a crucial story of numbers that eligible voters must become familiar with in a short period of time.
 Bernal E. Smith II

Underneath the issue of whether to dissolve the Memphis City Schools charter – and essentially set up a Shelby County Special School District (SCSSD) – is a crucial story of numbers that eligible voters must become familiar with in a short period of time.

Here is a synopsis of that story:

Today, each real estate owner in Memphis and Shelby County pays County taxes of 2.02 per 100 dollar of assessed value for education. That money is divided between Memphis City Schools and Shelby County schools on a pro rata basis according to the number of students served by each school district. This is normally referred to as the Average Daily Attendance (ADA) formula.  

There is always a big deal made about Memphis City Schools receiving $3 for every $1 that Shelby County receives, however, that is simply a reflection of the fact that MCS serves three times as many students as SCS.  This is a fair and equitable distribution of the taxes that all tax payers of Shelby County (including those paying real estate taxes in Memphis) pay for education.

If Shelby County Schools were granted the proposed special school district presented in committee last year under Senate Bill 2938/House Bill 3590, the move would create an entity with taxing authority, freeze the boundaries around Memphis (including parts of the Memphis annexation reserve) and significantly impact funding to MCS. It would create a significant burden on the taxpayers of Memphis to minimally maintain the necessary level of educational services, much less improve on student performance.  

The combined taxing authority and the permanent freezing of the district boundaries by the proposed Shelby County Special School District (SCSSD) are huge issues for the future of Memphis public education and taxes. Nearly 50 percent of the total assessed value of property in Shelby County lies outside the limits of the City of Memphis. Imagine a situation where someone was attempting to permanently reduce your access to jobs (personal income) or contracts (business revenue) by 50 percent.  What would be your response?

Thus, as Memphis expands under the annexation plans approved by the State, the Memphis school system could not expand. As population further declines in older areas of the city, combined with the closing of older neighborhood schools, the amount of funding for Memphis schools would shrink significantly. A greater burden would be placed on Memphis taxpayers for maintenance of older schools.  

With declining enrollment from aging population and population decline, State funding and county funding would also decline with the possibility of county education funding going away altogether given the specific changes in State law and implementation of the SCSSD.  Additionally, there is also the potential of Memphians living in future annexed areas having to potentially pay three taxes, one to Memphis, one to Shelby County and one to the SCSSD.  

So what do the numbers look like potentially with the Shelby County Special School District? The University of Memphis, Special School District Impact Study (2008) helps bring that picture into view. (See funding chart)

Under just one impact scenario of the implementation of the SCSSD, Memphis residence see an increase in education taxes of $1.17 per $100 of assessed value or up to a 58 percent increase while those living in Shelby County served by the SCSSD would see a reduction in education taxes of $.53 per $100 of assessed value or a 26 percent decrease.  

The impact to taxpayers is obvious, however, the impact on the future growth of the entire region is what has been missed. The implementation of this special school district in Shelby County would lead to an exodus of those able to leave Memphis, divestiture of businesses and an inability by the city to attract new investment, a further downward spiral of the education system and an unimaginable situation for those that remain. Business leaders would see tremendous issues in maintaining and growing their companies and pastors would see greater challenges in maintaining the work of their churches.

To the degree that Memphis declines, the quality of life for those in the County and surrounding areas will also decline. The residents of Memphis, Shelby County and the Metro area are inextricably connected and policy efforts must begin to reflect that fact.  

It is time for leaders to lead, to focus on smart solutions instead of problems, to focus on those things that further connect us rather than drive us further apart. The future of our children and the entire community depends on it.   

NEXT WEEK: A recommendation


At a glance

• Last week, Tri-State Defender President/Publisher Bernal E. Smith II gave a baseline analysis of how Memphis and Shelby County arrived at the opportunity to recreate what public education looks like.

• The Shelby County School Board has proposed on many occasions that a “special school district” be created to replace the current Shelby County School System.

• For this to happen, the Tennessee General Assembly would have to pass general legislation authorizing local jurisdictions to create special school districts (lift 1982 ban).

• Additionally the general assembly, with concurrence of the Shelby County delegation, would have to pass a private act creating the Shelby County Special School District. The district would have a fixed permanent boundary and the ability to impose a property tax to either enhance existing County revenues or fund most or all of its operating and capital budgets.

• The Memphis City Schools board subsequently has voted to relinquish its charter. Supporters of such a move have argued that it sets up an opportunity for voters to weigh in on the issue. And, they add that it is a proactive effort to avert potential negative impact to MCS, the taxpayers of the City of Memphis and to protect the overall long-term well-being of the entire County and region.

• This week, President/Publisher Smith deals primarily with the economics, the numbers of the various options, providing details on the ramifications of both options.

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