Editorial: Time to talk school funding

On December 2, 2010, in News 2010, by Mark Norris

Single source could get new life: A delay in the vote to surrender the charter might resurrect useful discussions.

Commercial Appeal
December 2, 2010

As a negotiating tool, the threat by some Memphis Board of Education members to force a merger of city and county schools is proving effective.

Holding a finger over a button that would initiate the City Schools equivalent of a nuclear strike might delay or perhaps even prevent passage of legislation that could eventually lead to the establishment of a special school district for Shelby County Schools.

That’s an especially egregious proposal among some city schools supporters, especially if it leads to taxing authority for county schools and costs city schools a big chunk of their budget.

It shouldn’t be this way, of course. An objective approach would be to study merging the systems to see if it would be good or bad for students.

Search our databases. But Shelby County School Board Chairman David Pickler probably reflects the views of many of his constituents when he says that permanently freezing the boundaries of the two school districts and preventing a merger are primary goals.

If he and state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris are serious about their desire not to hurt city schools, however, they will be open to a new education funding system that would not cut MCS off at the knees.

Single-source funding of public education has been on the table in Shelby County for some time as an alternative that would fairly distribute school tax revenue and eliminate double taxation for city residents.

Norris and Rep. Ron Lollar, R-Bartlett, have agreed to delay consideration of a special school district bill for a year if city and county school leaders promise to talk and city school board members forget about surrendering their charter for the time being and take their fingers off the consolidation button.

That’s a good idea, especially if it breathes new life into the single-source funding option.

It has been more than a year since ad hoc school funding committee discussions broke down in a disagreement over the details. A cooling off period — first suggested by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell — would be a good time to resume discussion of the issue.

Changing the school funding system might be more palatable for taxpayers than fully exercising the special school district option by granting the county school board the authority to levy taxes.

Norris suggests that there is “creative tension” in the air that could lead to a solution. A finger on the button that says “Consolidation” can do that.

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