The SCS Property Quandry

There has been no secret as of late about the burgeoning issue of school buildings and how they will handled in a unified district with multiple small school districts. One of the biggest requirements that school systems face is the issue of adequate facilities that meet state and federal standards. For the past 8 months, there has been this silent majority on our board that utilizes the perspective that they have no desire to work with MSD’s if they are formed. And to squash a community’s desire to form an MSD, they hold buildings hostage as the ransom for staying in the district.

Past practice dictates that agreements govern transfer of property. The SCS has never been one to not take care of the kids and make sure facilities were transferred appropriately. However, the ‘new” scs tends to think that these types of property transfers should be handled equitably. The reality is that we all have paid and continue to pay for these building through our property tax assessment. Capital projects(such as buildings) are paid for via bond issue by the county commission and are handled on 15,20, or 25 year term. At the end of those terms, the debt is paid for. However, we never stop issuing new bonds to pay for new capital projects. But based upon the way we finance properties today, all Shelby Countians pay for school buildings.

That is not to say that consideration has not been given in the past via forfeiture of ADA capital dollars by the city to the county. However, I cannot find proof that any money changed hands. And if money did change hands, it was county dollars floating from one entity to another. The net difference was 0 dollars to Shelby Countians.

Fastworward to today, it is the goal of some commissioners to find an “equitable” solution for the buildings that will be transferred to Shelby County. I personally do not believe that the SCS will allow unincorporated children to be educated by municipal governments. There is too much money at stake. With that said, there are two issues that we deal with:

1) Will the SCS just allow transfer of title to an MSD with some restrictions and for free? The answer is maybe. I think these solutions are cut and dry based upon those schools that have few to any unincorporated county kids. I personally think these are the low hanging fruit. They are wins that we could make today. However, there will may be those on the board that will want to require payment made. Past precedent and Lenox are clear on this. The quandary of these buildings lie with Shelby County. Take Bartlett as an example: There are 5 schools that have less than 2% utilization rate by unincorp kids. One at 7%. One at 12%. These schools would have no children in them if there are municipal children. If Bartlett chose to utilize other facilities, Shelby County would be stuck paying for buildings that re not usable. The schools would trigger a review process that would recommend closure. So if you ask me our chances on municicpalities getting these buildings, I would say:  Pretty Good.

2)What happens to the other buildings where county population is high? This really applies to areas like Germantown High or Shadowlawn Middle which has around 60% utilization by the county. While the position by the MSDs has been to educate the children currently in those schools(like the previous SCS), I think overall appetite on the board is low to do this. I support it.  So the answer boils down to a couple of answers. Maximize the use of the schools you have been given and leave these schools to the county. Augument with retail and industrial property(until you build a new school). The SCS has a problem on the borders of the cities of overcrowded schools. Help solve the issue.

Lastly, I find that the real issue around here is money. And while for 100 years we have been sharing the cost of capital funding across the entire county, there is now a push by some commissioners to fleece more money out of the suburbs. The reality is that there are solutions that will not cause any harm to the taxpayer in the least. However, scenarios where buildings are stuck with the county create major problems. There will be a call by some commissioners to pay remaining bond debt on schools. If that is the direction then, I would be remiss to not require that all bond debt located on schools outside of an MSD only be paid for taxpayers outside of the municipal government.

The resolve of having your own school districts need not hinge on a building although it would be easier if these buildings were available. There is plenty of retail and industrial space to provide school. That is how private schools started in the 70’s and 80’s. Do not let your resolve be impacted by politics with buildings. I will fight to make sure we get the best deal that does not hurt the children or our taxpayers.

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