Unified Schools Budget Presented to County Commission

Unified Schools Budget Presented to County Commission

The budget for the soon-to-be merged Memphis and Shelby County school systems was presented to county commissioners for the first time Wednesday.
MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - The budget for the soon-to-be merged Memphis and Shelby County school systems was presented to county commissioners for the first time Wednesday.

School officials are hoping the commissioners will find the money to balance the budget, which is currently $30 million in the red.

"We've been clear in our approach that we're going to keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible," stated Interim Superintendent Dorsey Hopson.

He told commissioners if he has to cut $30 million to balance the budget, it will directly affect the learning process.

Some commissioners say sure, they're worried about the children, but they're worried about taxpayers as well.

Commissioner Chris Thomas noted, "We were told this merger would be more efficient, more effective, cost less, so now we're seeing a budget where that's not true. That's not the case."

Supporters gave a big thumbs-up to school officials for making cuts; their first budget was more than $140 million out of balance.

"They've done some pretty heroic work," said Commissioner Mike Ritz, "We should recognize the fact that they have."

There was talk there would be fireworks and verbal bombs would be tossed with accusations and provocations, and none of that happened. Some tough questions popped up, though.

Commissioner Wyatt Bunker has never liked the merged school system idea. When he looked at the budget plan, he asked why school security chief Gerald Darling makes almost $40,000 a year more than the director of the Memphis Police Department.

Bunker noted that Darling has 140 employees roughly, with a salary of $159,000. "The Memphis Police Director, last time I checked, makes considerably less, and has two or three thousand employees," he said.

Others questioned why the system has its own security system. Hopson says he's firm about not making any cuts in the security budget.

"Security does not need to take a cut. We had a couple of students over the last few years get killed in their neighborhoods. Maybe some gang activity. That stuff spills in to schools. If we can't provide a safe environment, we lose right off the bat."

School board members, for the most part, felt pretty good once everything ended.

School board member Chris Caldwell said, "I think they had legitimate questions. I think staff did a great job in answering them, and I think they want to find a way to fund us as much as they can."

County Mayor Mark Luttrell has a plan to raise property taxes by an additional six cents, which would generate $20 million for the schools. Hopson has said if they get $20 million, the school system could find the rest.

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