I received a copy of Councilman Myron Lowery's talking points on his decision to support a reduction of funding to the Memphis City Schools. Mr. Lowery has always been a man of reason and I felt there was no better way to explain his actions than to let him do it himself.
City Council Chairman Myron Lowery’s
Education Summit Talking Points
October 3, 2008
Change is good. It causes you to look at things in a different way.
We are here today because of action the City Council took in June decreasing the amount of funds for the Memphis City Schools.
The main thrust of the City’s reduction was to begin the process of reducing and in the future, eliminating double property taxation of City residents for MCS.
City residents were paying a City property tax of 86¢ per $100 of assessed valuation for MCS and a County property tax of $1.38 per $100 of assessed valuation which was also for MCS.
City residents also pay a County property tax of 64¢ per $100 of assessed valuation for County Schools.
This resulted in a combined City resident’s school tax burden of $2.88 per $100 of assessed value compared to $2.02 for county residents. We feel this burden must be equalized.
The Council was also faced with a struggling economy, declining property values and property tax revenues, declining sales tax revenues and increasing costs to maintain the same level of services.
While the Council could have just passed these costs on to the taxpayers, as we have done for many years, we felt in these hard economic times that the taxpayers needed a break.
So we required all City Divisions, except fire and police, to absorb a 5% reduction in their budgets.
And the Council reduced MCS’ budget by 6.6%.
City tax payers received an 18¢ tax break.
Before we approved the budget we gave each city division the opportunity to show the impact of a 5% budget reduction---all complied.
The Council gave the same opportunity to MCS, who declined to the Council’s request. Other financial requests including salary information were also declined.
The Council looked hard at MCS’ finances in the absence of their cooperation and found that due to declining student enrollment, MCS had been overfunded in fiscal years 2006 and 2008 by $40 million each year and that by the current fiscal year had amassed over $1 billion in assets and an unrestricted fund balance of over $120 million. In comparison, the City’s surplus was about $70 million.
The Council felt that MCS should tighten its belt as well and that’s what we wanted the school system to do.
All this occurred before our new superintendent was selected.
Superintendent Cash announced that MCS could absorb the $66 million in budget reductions made by the Council without closing its doors, thus validating the Council’s beliefs that they too could tighten their belts, as did the City, the County, the State and the taxpayers.
The Council is not against MCS or against providing funding support for schools.
Even though we are still in Court, I believe that whatever decision is reached will be positive for our future.
The City and MCS both agreed that the State should not withhold State funds regardless of the public threats that were made to do so.
The Council and MCS have jointly worked cooperatively to make sure the State did not withhold $423 million of State funds and that has NOT occurred.
And despite threats of gloom and doom, the school system is open and doing well. Dr Cash told the Council recently that no teachers have been laid off as a result of the Council’s budget cuts.
The Council intends to provide school funding when it can afford to do so, but the Council is also looking for more accountability in how those funds are spent. We believe that Dr. Cash will work to provide that accountability.
This summit will provide new funding ideas. Perhaps more funding from the county, perhaps giving the school system taxing authority. These ideas need to be explored.
We all need to thank County Commissioner Mike Carpenter for leading the charge in holding community meetings for citizen input regarding the future of our educational system.
We also need to thank Shelby County Commission Chairman Dedra Malone for organizing this education summit, bringing everyone together for open communication.
It is critical that we keep the lines of communication open.
For the future, I recommend that we schedule quarterly meetings with the County Commission, School Board and the City Council to discuss items of mutual interest. We need to talk directly to each other instead of through the media.
We also need to work with the Parent’s Assembly. Chris Cauldwell tells me this group is planning to organize education stakeholders from churches, civic groups, universities and foundations to work on long term issues.
This summit is a positive event because we have representatives of all the stake holders gathered to communicate on school funding.
Communication and cooperation are paramount to solving our differences of opinion and to agreeing on a solution to this funding dilemma.
We must work together; our children and our future are at stake.