Tug-of-war over school construction money ends with vote - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Tug-of-war over school construction money ends with committee vote

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The schools want $51.6 million for construction; the mayor wants to cut that down to $13.9 million and do a study to see if the rest is necessary. The schools want $51.6 million for construction; the mayor wants to cut that down to $13.9 million and do a study to see if the rest is necessary.
Photo: Berclair Elementary Photo: Berclair Elementary
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MEMPHIS, TN -

(WMC) - Fireworks erupted between the Shelby County mayor and the Shelby County Commission on Wednesday.

The tug-of-war is over money that the school system wants for seven school in every corner of the county.

The schools want $51.6 million for construction; the mayor wants to cut that down to $13.9 million and do a study to see if the rest is necessary.

Mayor Mark Luttrell asked county commissioners to delay $51.6 million in construction for seven county schools and to, instead, conduct a needs assessment study.

"These schools are operating over 200 percent capacity," said Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson.

Supt. Hopson showed photo after photo of overcrowded classes, makeshift classrooms, and no room left for supplies.

Commissioners asked the mayor for his rationale.

"Why are you deciding this year to weigh in and, frankly, decimate the process we all knew was coming?" asked Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz.

"As long as debt accrues to the county, and you're going to hold me responsible for managing the debt, I'm going to be involved," responded the mayor.

Mayor Luttrell said the commission needs a strategic process.

Some commissioners spoke against spending money on a study.

"I don't really think we need to spend $1 million on a study when we're at a critical time with our budget," said Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy.

"I hear a consulting fee for $1 million," added Commissioner Melvin Burgess. "That's 13 to 14 teachers that we could add to the classroom for $1 million."

Others supported caution with the schools de-merging next year.

"Defer it until we get to a point where you know what the population looks like," suggested Commissioner James Harvey.

"I personally would like to consider the mayor's proposal," said Mark Billingsley, Shelby County Commission.

Ultimately, the committee approved the money for 2014. It will be up for a vote on Monday.

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