MEMPHIS, Tenn. — No details have been released yet as to what caused the partial roof collapse at Cummings K-8 Optional School Monday. Cummings students will attend LaRose Elementary for at least another week; however, the issue has brought back to light the need for upgrades and new buildings for Memphis-Shelby County Schools.
Shelby County leaders said why those needs have not been fully met.
“We’ve got to make sure that our kids have a first-rate learning environment. We can’t let what happened at Cummings happen across the district,” said Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris.
For some time now, MSCS and county government have been trying to get additional funding for school upgrades and new buildings.
“I think we know the issue. We have over $500 million in deferred maintenance and it’s about time that we invest in it,” said Harris.
What’s the hold-up? Last year, the school district asked for an extra $55 million from County Commission for building projects and maintenance; however, the Commission only approved $22 million from its capital improvement budget. County Commissioner Van Turner said when it comes down to decision-making time, there is more than just the schools in emergency need.
“What ends up happening is that each year, we are trying to figure out a way to fund the improvements and needs of Regional One as well as those improvements and needs for the school system, and it’s just not enough money,” said Turner.
That has forced the county to split funding.
“It’s a tough call. You pin our young people against those who are in life or death situations and need of the trauma unit at Regional One,” said Turner.
One solution is to appeal to the state and federal governments.
“There is a surplus at the state that we are aware of and hope to tap into some of those funds,” said Turner.
Then, there is the option to raise county taxes.
“In order to get more revenue raised, you essentially have to have nine out of 13 commissioners support that,” said Turner.
With a portion of County Commissioners outside the city of Memphis, that has been difficult.
“They’ve already had their taxes raised in the suburbs and they don’t want the county taxes raised, but we need maybe one or two or three of their votes to raise revenue for our Shelby County Schools,” said Turner.
He said raising taxes should be a last resort and the question should go to residents as to what they want to do first.
For now, MSCS said they are taking a look at all school buildings more than 70 years old.
In the meantime, once their review of the collapse at Cummings is complete, they will share it with families.