Digging In to Opposition to Municipal School Districts

I have had the opportunity over the past couple of months to listen to community stakeholders on pro and cons on municipal districts. Last night, I heard from members of the group Stand for Children who spoke out against legislation concerning muni districts.

And after hearing all of the arguments, the argument really boils down to two arguments:

1) The removal of the ADA dollars from the children who go to the municipal district will hurt the education of children in the rest of the county.

The answer: It doesn’t have to. The reality is that the new school district cannot scale quickly enough to offset the removal of ADA dollars from its district due to Charter schools and ASD schools. When a large group of children is removed, the associated overhead cannot be discharged to match a dollar for dollar savings. This creates a funding gap like we have today. 70% of money goes into the classroom leaving 30% in overhead. That leaves roughly 300-400 million in overhead. The muni schools could help lower overall cost by dealing the cost of the entire school and its services to the new school district. That would include taking all infrastructure, teachers, support services,and wrap around services. The same cost savings could be realized in conversions of entire schools to charter schools. The ASD and regular charter schools cherry pick and take children from all over the district making cost recovery almost impossible.

2) Teachers, board members, and politicians alike believe that the fact municipal school districts will have access to another funding stream (ie municipal funding) that it already gives children who have a leg-up socially an incredibly unfair advantage over their own kids. (Interestingly enough, Memphis children had a funding advantage for the past 50 years over county kids by having access to Memphis contributions to education.

If we based this argument on historical performance of the MCS and access to money, you will find that the more money that has been spent, the worse the education system has become. That is because a great school system is not about money. It’s about people. Even when MCS was receiving 68 million dollars a year more plus all of the extra federal dollars, children were performing far worse than their SCS counter parts.The financial argument does not fly and is categorically inaccurate as the reason for poor education.

Why did the Memphis City schools suffer? Because effective elected officials are not valued. Problem solvers are not valued. Free thinkers and community builders are not valued. People who do not adhere to the politics of the 60’s are not valued. No.. Politicians don’t won’t to fix the problems they have. They want more of what they already have. And the suburban community is the scapegoat. The antagonist to blame all urban problem in Shelby County.

I thank God for people like Kevin Woods, Ken Whalum, Billy Orgel, and Chris Caldwell who are Memphis leaders  who want accountability and truly advance Memphis. While we don’t; always agree, we share the same vision for success for all.

Thanks to Whalum and Orgel for understanding the true impact of muni districts. Diane George did not represent the views of Collierville last night. But myself, Gibson, Wissman, Carruthers, Pickler, and Clayton did.


Where does the “Hammer” fall

Over the next two months, the SCS (notice the name of the schools) will be knee-deep in budget discussions which will vex the community as people try to find where cuts will come to better balance the budget.

Notice, I say better balance the budget. Because, it will be difficult to perfectly balance it. But on the whole, people will fall into two camps:

1) Keep investments in educational services and allow those to permeate the old MCS. This is directly tied to our school staffing models(AP’s, counselors, nurses, es assistants) and resources poured into the schools by reducing central staff functions and reorganizing support functions (like custodial, bussing, etc).

2) Keep current investments in support functions by leaving them in-house and cutting positions out of ed services.

My decision-making process tends to always have to meet the following criteria before I approve:

1) Does the decision improve educational outcomes of the children?

2) Does the decision make delivery of the educational model more efficient?

3) Does the decision come at the lowest cost to taxpayers without affecting the previous two?

So It think that choice is pretty clear, for me. I believe that we should:

Invest our money into the school educational services. Reorganize non-educational support services(by outsourcing or reorganization) and substantially eliminate positions out of the central office. Funnel as much money as possible into the school.

Have a great weekend. We all have decisions to make. I just wanted you to understand my criteria for making them.

Tough to Put the Toothpaste Back in the Tube

The title of this post is really indicative of the discussion over the past couple of weeks. There was a notion that maybe we could put the merger off for a year. Allow the municipalities to create their own districts, then better know what we were dealing with.

Sounds good in theory. But in reality, we are already merged. When the two schools boards were put together under one board and one board made the decisions for both districts, we were both merged. The only thing left is to “officially” transfer the administration to Shelby County. That means the Memphis superintendent goes away.

What does that mean? It means in almost all aspects that the merger is done. Policies have been recreated. IT systems have been or are being merged. Jobs are being redefined.

How do you go to a judge and say?  We want to put his off for a year. How do you go to the city of Memphis and say “We need another 65 million dollars?”. How do you identify 100 million dollars worth of efficiency savings in the districts and do away with it for a year and balloon the deficit to an astronomical number?

Ms. Hart’s proposal while it may have made sense 1 year ago. It now comes too little too late.

So, what is the next step for our board:

1) Minimize distractions that do not support the opening of school on August 5th (that includes renaming he district)

2) Approve a real budget (cut the 145 million dollar budget significantly)

3) Affirm the current or hire a new superintendent ( a ridiculous idea to look for a new one)

4) Reconcile the policies of the two districts

Continue to stay tuned to policy related discussions that may or may not impact your school directly. And share your opinion often.

Concerning Choice Transfers for 2013-2014(the Northeast Area)

I have received lots of correspondence this week in regards to transfers to various schools in the Northeast High Schools (Arlington, Bolton, and Bartlett) and why they do not show up on the transfer list.

To put it simply: They are already full. Arlington is at 110%, Bartlett will be at 100%, and Bolton is at 100%. The figure used to determine if there is any space is 90%. So the only way to be guaranteed a space in any of these schools is to move into the zone. This will make it difficult for out-of-zone students who want to attend Bolton for the IB program or Bartlett for STEM at lease for the next two years.(or until municipal district or charter schools happen)

Any children currently granted transfers will be able to finish school through their exit grade.

As far as Middle School are concerned, there is plenty of space in Appling, Elmore Park, Bon Lin Middle, and a little less in Shadowlawn. If you are interested in transferring any of these schools you have a good shot. Just remember if you do transfer, you have to provide your own transportation. Arlington Middle is full.

Elementary Schools have space as well. Ellendale, Bon Lin, Rivercrest, Oak, Lakeland, Barrets, and Donelson all have space and you have a good chance of getting in. Arlington elementary is full.

All of these schools are good and have their own strengths and great PTA’s.

Here is the link to start the process starting tomorrow. Good Luck.. Oh and by the way, we have not approved any rezoning plans for schools in the suburbs for the 2013-2014 school year. Your zones should be the same.


What’s next – The Morning After the 145 Million Dollar Bomb

So I find myself today pondering the future after the 145 million dollar bomb. The true operational incremental cost of the merger for bringing the entire district up to the SCS staffing model which is proven to work.

So as i survey the landscape after we dropped the atomic bomb, this is our reality:

1) The county commission will choke on 145 million dollars

2) The county commission only has the votes to raise taxes 10% which would roughly raise the county tax rate .40 and generate 60 million dollars. Since the cc has to make up for the lost values in property tax assessments and fund the juvenile court effort, available funds are more like 45 million dollars.

3) 145 million – 45 million = 100 million – where is 100 million going to come from? The next two months will be spent pondering that question. As we dig into the marrow of the two budgets, we will probably find savings and efficiencies in many areas. But the lion share of school costs resides in the schools. I have galvanized more than ever around the concept of not cutting out of the school.

4) The Norris-Todd Bill envisioned this as being a problem. This would have allowed the suburban school with richer models to create their own districts and push the cost of maintenance to the municipalities. What would be that impact? The leveling of  staffing levels would be off the table at a cost savings to the county since those new schedules would be carried into the municipal districts. That would result in roughly a 100 million dollar savings. Budget hole manageable.

5) The only people stopping the balanced budget is the county commission. Drop the lawsuit. Let these communities take flight and fix the urban education model.


My next steps will be go on a mission to find where 100 million dollars will be cut.. And the focus will not be in the school..


Budget Night – The Result : 145 million dollars

As advertised, budget night was brutal. The room really setup into two camps. Those who wanted to keep the jobs of custodians, bus drivers, etc. And those who wanted to protect the educational services of the schools.

The administration brought forth a presentation with an 80 million dollar gap (including OPEB). The reality is that number increased class sizes, decreased counselors, decreased nurses, decreased assistant principals, librarians and it did it mostly in the old county system as those resources moved to level-up the city schools.

The administration scrubbed for cost savings and the best they had was 65 million. I went into the budget hearing with a potential compromise but quickly understood that it was futile. The main reason being that cost savings to fund my proposal by deferring the level up of salaries could not happen due to potential litigation at the advice of general counsel.

We also did not have the votes to outsource custodians or busses tonight.

So the question really came down to: Is it time to prove the merger point? That the charter surrender was a bad idea and that we expect our educational services in the county to not be diminished. And based upon my principals, it would have hit them hard. So I took the 65 million dollar price tag and added 80 million dollars to it to bring Memphis up to our standards and wallah!

145 million dollars

Now I don’t support raising taxes this high and I don’t support the continual effort of other elected bodies to try to stifle the desire of citizens of our county to have their own educational system. But I can say this: Until we are cut out of the district my expectation is that the level of SCS services we have today will not diminish.

In the end I protected the resources of my principals to give them the best to do the best they can to educate our children. They deserve it.. Our kids deserve it..

Budget Night

Tonight the SCS will approve a high level budget to send to the county commission for consideration as part of the county budget planning process for next fiscal year. Once this draft high level budget is approved, the administration will begin working on the details which means we may see more tweaks here and there to better fund our priorities before a final budget vote at the end of April.

As for me, I have had the chance to digest to new budget numbers, listen to community feedback, listen to the administration feedback, and last night I heard from a tremendous group of principals. The principals meeting was the most important meeting I have had to understand what the true impact is at the school level.

I am happy to say that out of all of the feedback I have received, this was the most beneficial to me and most of my opinions were driven by the feedback from this group. Here is a recap:

1) We are already killing ourselves to implement the state standards and the inordinate amount of extra work sent don from the district. Many of us are working 50-60-70 hours a week. We are taking work home and doing tons of paper work. And this is at our current staffing levels. You will see a significant drop in service levels if you begin removing AP’s and counselors from our schools.

2) The nurse formula is unacceptable as it could place the principal and/or teachers at unnecessary legal risk. Safety of our students should be number one priority.

3) It will hurt to lose some ed assistants and clerks, however, loss of some positions can be dealt with.

4) If we are going to invest resources, they need to be at the school level and less in the district administration.

5) Principals are really excited about implementation of TEI and hiring by mutual consent which means seniority will a thing of the past. Hiring and retention will be based upon performance.

So after much deliberation and understanding that not everything is a zero sum game, I am willing to compromise on the budget since we may get more now as opposed to waiting until we force cuts and then not have a say.

This will be my proposal tonight..

1) Restore the current AP and Counselor formulas for elementary and middle. The AP formulas for high schools would change little for the big schools but a little more in the small high schools.

2) Restore the current nursing formula

3) Accept the new gen ed ratios for high school(2 per class)  and middle school(2 per class)l. Utilize the MCS formula for the elementary students which only increases size by one student per class but saves 4 million dollars. This will help off-set half of cost to restore AP and counselor positions.

4) Accept the reductions in Gen ED EA’s and Clerks..

5) Commit to level up salaries over the next 3 years but not front-ending the 11 million dollars Year 1. This will be re-evaluated next year after we see or fiscal condition and how the new BEP formula from Nashville impacts our bottom line.

6) Reduce the investment to OPEB to either 0 or a nominal amount and reassess next year. We don’t have the money to front end this year..

7) Pre-K funding has been moved to federal funds for existing pre-k and will not be expanded next year.

8) Settling on the funds owed from Memphis help fund our OPEB liability to keep from having to pay out of general funds.

9) Outsource custodial/busses

Once we begin in-depth budget deliberations next month:

1) Eliminate more district staffing functions and invest back to ED assistants and/or expand AP’s

2) Look at the possibilities of transitioning Title I facilitator’s to Title One AP’s to help expand administrative capability in the Title One schools.

This will bring our budget gap down to around 50 million dollars. Which can be closed by a combination of Shelby county tax increase (around .30), increased state tax dollars, settlement on Memphis funds, and funding from fund balance.

This is very doable and come at a compromise but helps the school maintain current level of service. It is the best I have for us to get as close as we have today.