MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Local leaders debated the cost of improving Memphis Shelby County Schools and Tuesday night, the school board held a special meeting to talk about its almost $2 billion budget proposal.

On Wednesday, the school district’s superintendent took his budget proposal to Shelby County Commissioners.

Memphis Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray made his case to Shelby County Commissioners to approve the district’s 20-23 budget request.

“We’re here to present the 2023 budget presentation,” Dr. Joris Ray said.  

“What is the capacity of the county’s capital improvement plan? Of Course, we also have a request from Regional One in addition to the school request,” Commissioner Michael Whaley said.

“The majority of the kids come out of Memphis and they want to complain about the school systems, but want to put in,” Commissioner Eddie Jones said.

“It doesn’t reflect that we care. It doesn’t reflect that we’re putting resources in their facilities like the young people receiving resources out in the suburbs,” Commissioner Van Turner said.

The district’s proposed budget was approved by the school board Tuesday to address issues such as declining enrollment, limited staff, and deferred maintenance on aging school buildings.

“I graduated over 30 years ago, and our buildings are still in the same shape and many of them where it was when I graduated 30 years ago,” Dr. Ray said. “Our students deserve more.”

Dr. Ray said the financial investment could pave the way for improvements in student literacy possibly leading Memphis children and their families out of poverty and being able to compete for better paying jobs that are coming to the Memphis area.

“You’ve heard me say I rather build schools and not jails. Our students deserve to walk into a world class facility where they can learn, grow, and compete globally,” Dr. Ray said.

And to pay for the funding request…Ray did not rule out supporting a possible tax increase that he says would be an investment in education and children.

“I’m willing to support anything it takes for our students to have the best facilities in the country,” Dr. Ray said.

Memphis-Shelby County Schools is the largest district in the state, with more than 108,000 students.

Dr. Ray said his administration continues to reimagine education with expanded literacy programs, along with AP and honors courses as well as better pay for teachers.