Council cuts Memphis City Schools funding - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Council cuts Memphis City Schools funding

UPDATE:

The Memphis City Council approved a budget Tuesday night that lowered property taxes and significantly reduced the city's funding of Memphis City Schools.

  • The plan cuts about $51 million, or roughly 5.5 percent of the school system's overall budget.

  • The plan includes $15 million in debt forgiveness for the schools. The school system will receive another $7.1 million from other city sources. That makes the city's total contribution to schools $42.3 million.

  • The city council also agreed to cut the property tax rate by 18 cents, lowering property taxes by 5.3 percent. That means the owner of a $100,000 home will save $44 annually.

  • City council leaders overwhelmingly approved the plan Tuesday evening by a vote of 10-3.

  • Council members expect a lawsuit from the school district in an attempt to get more funding.


ORIGINAL STORY:

Memphis City Council members mulled over several school funding options at a committee meeting Wednesday. Depending on what the council eventually adopts, Memphis homeowners could end up receiving a tax break.

There are two proposals on the table to solve the Memphis City budget crisis, and both proposals involve city school funding cuts.

One proposal was from Councilman Bill Morrison.

"We have got to equalize the tax base," Morrison said. "We are paying for two school systems and we need to stop doing that."

The other option was proposed by Councilman Jim Strickland.

"We're two months from registration," Strickland said. "They can't make up the funding on the county level, so I'm saying let's reduce it somewhat."

Morrison initially proposed giving schools only $7 million of its $93 million request. Tuesday, he eased up a little.

"We're still giving them 27 million dollars in cash, giving a tax reduction to the citizens of Memphis, still providing for police, still providing for the services that everyone expects the city to provide to them," he said.

Strickland wants to give schools $43 million, and the schools can use part of their rainy day fund. And, he said, instead of taking money from the schools, the city of Memphis should bear more of a burden.

"We can't grow," he said. "We have to cut employees. All levels of government, state county, private businesses are cutting and the city of Memphis needs to do the same."

School Board President Tomeka Hart still hopes for the full $93 million.

"The issue behind the budget is that you can cut because it's bloat.," she said. "What we're saying is 'No, it's not.'"

Hart said the idea that the school system is paying too many administrators too much money is not the problem.

"We can fire the superintendent and every administrator and that's only 18 million dollars. There's still 78 million on the table," she said.

Hart said the programs that will take the biggest hit include optional schools, transportation and safety initiatives.  Meanwhile, tears welled in the eyes of council member Wanda Halbert as she spoke of the challenge to make cuts.

"At some point, we've got to start changing it and we've got to demand accountability," she said.

Shortly after the committee meeting, School Board Member Martavius Jones confronted Strickland in the hallway.  Jones claimed Morrison's calculation of savings from school cuts were incorrect.

"That would be 25 percent of this amount," Jones said. "That tax cut is not 25 percent."

Morrison did not back down.

"The numbers I have come from my staff so I'll stick with my numbers," he countered.  "Regardless whether it's $88 or $200, it's a savings to the citizens of Memphis."

The big question of the day remained - is the city required to fund city schools?  Council members and school board commissioners said the issue could end up in court.

"If it comes to that, it certainly does not have to become an antagonistic 'Okay, we're suing you because you owe me.'  It's 'Okay, judge we need help.'" Hart said.
 
Halbert took issue with the school board's failure to begin talks when the council first threatened to cut school funding.

"It is absolutely not true that our administration has not looked into the situation to determine what they're going to have to do." Hart said.

A city hiring freeze, minus police and fire, are also on the table.  Strickland said he also wants the city to cut employees.

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