(Memphis) Thursday afternoon, the merged school board approved its billion-dollar budget, which includes a $30 million gap that board members hope will be funded with county tax dollars.
The $30 million deficit was reduced from $35 million in the last two days, after district staff found that state funding would be more than estimated.
The school budget required serious cuts, which created fierce debates among the 23 board members over the last several months.
The $1.187 billion budget is still less than the two districts spent the previous year.
“The community seems to be satisfied that we will be spending $75 million less this year than we did last year,” said Commissioner Martavius Jones, during the board meeting.
In a rare moment of agreement, board members seemed to be adamant about asking the county commission to fund the remaining $30 million.
Commissioner David Reaves said, “I’m going to fight for it at the county commission, because I have three kids in the school system. I understand from the district if we cut anymore, it hurts them.”
Jones later said in response, “When you go to the county commission, I’m right behind you, my friend.”
The county commission has so far been reluctant to raise any taxes.
They are facing a budget shortfall themselves, due to the falling value of property since homes were reappraised this year.
In order to maintain the same level of revenue, the county would have to raise taxes by 30 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Mayor Mark Luttrell proposes adding an additional 6 cents that would be devoted to schools.
According to this proposal, county taxes for those living inside Memphis would go from a $4.02 tax rate to a $4.38 tax rate. Their additional city taxes may also increase.
Those living outside Memphis would see their tax rate go from $4.06 to $4.42.
Of the proposed increase in county taxes, the 6 cents for schools would amount to an extra $15 a year for a family in a $100,000 home.
“Oh yeah, anybody would be willing to pay that,” said Kim Norris, a Midtown resident. “I just think they’re approaching it wrong. You can’t just say, we’re going to raise taxes. $30 million, you know? They need to take a poll. Say, how many people would be willing to pay an extra $15 a year?”
Still, that proposed increase would need to be passed by the county commission, and it would still not be enough to fund the schools’ deficit.
Shelby County Chief Administrative Officer Harvey Kennedy told News Channel 3 that there is higher revenue in county tax collection than expected this year.
That would produce about $10 million for schools.
The extra 6-cent tax increase would produce another $10 million.
That still leaves the school district looking for the final $10 million.
Interim Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said that dipping into the rainy day fund is one option, but not a good one.
“Once you spend it, it’s gone. So you don’t want to use one-time revenue for recurring expenses. Having said that, that is your savings. It is your rainy day fund, and it definitely is a rainy day.”
The district is required to keep a certain amount in their fund balance to be considered in “healthy” financial status.
Another source of money could be the city of Memphis, which owes Memphis City Schools more than $50 million.
Hopson and city of Memphis staff said that talks are ongoing. While the payment is not currently budgeted for the city, it is open as an option for the coming fiscal year.
Hopson said, “Those talks have been encouraging, but we can’t rely on that.”