Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Revenge of the 'Burbs

Posted By on Tue, Jan 17, 2012 at 8:49 PM

Sharon Goldsworthy
  • Sharon Goldsworthy
The votes have not yet been taken, but the road map is pretty clear. Barring court intervention, Shelby County suburbs including Germantown, Bartlett, Arlington, and Collierville aim to have their own municipal school systems in place by 2013 and will stake a claim on their current buildings and sports facilities lock stock and barrel at no charge.

On Tuesday the Germantown Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) met to receive a feasibility study in a one-hour meeting that drew a small crowd of about 40 people. There was no public comment and no vote by the board. There will be a public meeting on February 1st at the Germantown Performing Arts Center that is likely to draw hundreds of residents. After that, the BMA will go on a two-day retreat to decide its next move.

Which, Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy indicated, is apt to be this: A referendum in May and, assuming a "go-for-it" vote, a school board election in November and employment of a superintendent next January. That person would hire everyone else, which consultants estimated at 776 other certified and classified employees.

Total projected enrollment: 8,142 students in eight schools. Projected expenditures, $60,921,144 from projected revenues of $62,483,135. The revenue would come from several sources including at least 15 cents on the municipal tax rate — either a new levy or an equal sum taken from the current rate of $1.48. Alternately, the city could levy an extra half cent on the sales tax, which, of course, is paid by locals and non-locals alike.

A similar proposal was unveiled in Bartlett on Monday, and Collierville is on deck for Wednesday.

The 15 cents on the tax rate, said consultant Jim Mitchell — a former Shelby County Schools superintendent — is required by state law. Muni's must spend it, but they don't necessarily have to raise it in the form of additional taxes. Even if they do, the gap between the Memphis tax rate of $3.19 and the suburban rates of $1.43 to $1.49 is so wide that 15 cents seems a pittance by comparison. All Shelby County property owners also pay $4.02 in county taxes. School board member David Pickler said the referendum might not be a lay-down because many of Germantown's young folk go to private schools and the general population is aging into the golden years. But noone on the BMA appeared alarmed in the least at the consultants' recipe.

The sweetest caramel in Mitchell's box was the opinion that the 'burbs can get their schools at no charge. Precedent, he said, dictates as much. He said that Shelby County since 1965 has given 44 schools to Memphis City Schools, via annexation, at no charge. The reasonableness, much less the legality of this charming argument, will certainly be tested.

Board members asked if Germantown could perhaps partner with its wealthy neighbor to the east, Collierville, in a common school system. No, said Mitchell. Each must go its own way, although they can "cooperate" all they want.

"You're going to have to create your own district," he said.

Mitchell was among friends. At one point, he reminded alderman Ernest Chism that they go way back and invited him to call him with any questions. The meeting was business-like all the way, with no citizen input this time around. Mitchell noted that Germantown's school population is 25 percent black, but there are no blacks on the BMA. Nor were there any on the 2011 edition of the Shelby County school board which has merged with the Memphis board. The Shelby County system did not elect board members until 1998.

The full consultants' report can be seen on the Germantown web site. Check page 122 for a summary.

A picture is emerging. The picture looks like this: As many as half a dozen municipal school districts, the strongest of which would have 8,000-10,000 students. And a county system of roughly 110,000 students that would look a lot like the current MCS system with a new name, new board, and different boundaries. Many's the slip, but that's the outline.

Mitchell's final word of advice: This will not be easy, but should Germantown decide on such a course of separation, "you've got adequate time."

Some years ago I was an MCS parent, and my children competed against Germantown and Collierville in soccer and baseball. We were pretty good but simply could not beat them, ever, in those sports. Basketball, the city game, was another story, thanks to the likes of Dane Bradshaw and J.P. Prince. But soccer and baseball, no way, although there were a couple of close calls with overwhelming evidence of divine intervention. My young athletes would go off to college and become teammates and friends with their former rivals, but to this parent, at least, the takeway was: We ain't gonna beat the 'burbs at their own game. I haven't forgotten it.

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