Memphis City Council is deliberating a $43.3 million proposal to settle a longstanding funding dispute with Shelby County Schools. The plan was hammered out in recent months by the city and the school district and was approved last month by the Shelby County School Board. It has the backing of both Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and county school Superintendent Dorsey Hopson. In order to be funded, the package must be approved by City Council, which has challenged several previous court rulings in the disagreement. Here is a snapshot of the proposed settlement and the six-year journey to this point.
What are the terms of the proposed agreement?
The city would pay the school district $32.7 million over a 13-year period. The first payment of $6 million would be due by Feb. 1, followed by annual payments ranging from $1.3 million to $2.2 million for the next 13 years. The city would assume an $8 million bond debt incurred in 1998 by the former city school district. In addition, Memphis police would provide resource officers in Shelby County schools for two years, at a cost of about $2.6 million.
How did we get here?
In 2008, Memphis City Council voted to withhold $57 million from the former Memphis City Schools, arguing that it was not legally obligated to pay the district and that the school system owed the city for prior debts. The district sued the council, which eventually was ordered by a judge to pay the money back in full.
What’s the holdup?
The case has been stalled by appeals and a counter lawsuit; the 2013 merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools; and the subsequent creation of separate school districts by six suburban municipalities. Often, the disagreement has been contentious, with the former city school board threatening not to begin the 2011-2012 school year unless City Council paid up. In recent months, both Wharton and Hopson have pushed for a compromise in the dispute, which has cost both entities substantial legal fees.
What will happen if a proposed settlement is reached?
The district has pledged to spend the first payment of $6 million on its Innovation Zone, an initiative to improve the district’s worst academically performing schools. Also known as the iZone, the program provides financial incentives to teachers, flexibility to principals, and other interventions. The iZone initiative has been funded largely by a federal grant, which soon will be depleted. Wharton says a settlement can be funded without raising taxes and will allow the city to get beyond the protracted quarrel. Both the city and the school district are strapped for money because property tax revenue has steadily decreased in recent years.