Education Sustainability in Shelby County – The Next Discussion

Against the backdrop of the first two weeks of school, it seems that many of us are finding that our concerns in merging into such a large school district had merit. There is no doubt that merging these two systems, reallocating resources across the county, and adopting what we would refer to as “best practices” has only equated into a costly experiment in futility. Although spend is now down. Service levels are abysmal in the areas of central office customer service, transportation, and last but not least staffing levels. So I think we all realize is that bigger is not better. It just costs more.

While this may song like a broken record, it really is a microcosm of other political realities that we are facing. You can marry the same results to the laws like t he Family Affordable Care act which has seen benefit costs increase and quality decrease all in the name of “efficiency and cost savings”.

So what is the long term prognosis of public education when you factor in all current reform efforts today in Shelby County? It really boils down to two areas: Money and Education Quality.. Both are interwoven.. Shelby County Schools has budget of 1.2 billion dollars for general fund alone. 53% of that amount comes from the state of TN. 44% comes from Shelby County.  47.5% of property tax are appropriated for education .361 million dollars from the county commission. Debt Service fund pays $163,859,000 a year to pay for capital funded projects. Over 1 billion of the county’s bond debt is school construction related or close to 80% or 131 million a year.

So when we add up the numbers from Shelby County we get 492 million just from the county or roughly 3.08 on the tax rate.

So we spend 3.08 on our county tax bill and expect a certain level of service when it comes to education delivery. However, baked into those costs are significant non-educated costs the continue to put pressure on the quality of education. However, the non-education costs are critical depending on your school.

The real lesson out of this merger is that there are significant differences in cost structures for urban, suburban, and rural schools. A uniform model applied throughout without considering those is what we have today. And it is causing less quality operationally and in some aspects educationally.

So what is the problem? Unsustainable funding, poor quality, cookie cutter solutions that raise operational costs(non-scalable)

How do we fix the problem?

In the situation for a large district that cannot scale, it only make sense to break it apart and support the unique characteristics of each community. The county provides a baseline of services but the enhanced quality has to be driven by those in the community that desires it. On the whole, our county is poor.. Maybe we don’t all realize that but it is true. And trying to balance the overwhelming poor on the backs of the few is not sustainable and ultimately creates what we had in Detroit. No money at all…

So where is our starting point? What can we fix now and later…

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