schools 3








We don’t want to say we told you so, but…

Germantown city officials yesterday admitted that they will be asking for a 23 cent property tax with the bulk of it required to fund schools.  Meanwhile, Bartlett is proposing a 35 cent increase with 14 cents needed to pay for an improved high school.  Collierville increased its property tax rate by 25 cents two years ago to pay for a new high school.

It seems a long time ago – it was five years – when the towns’ consultant delivered to them the report they had paid to get.  It said that funding schools would not be painful and the towns could fund education without any real strain.

In the end, it was a document fanning fears and prejudice for political advantage by the mayors in office at that time, and while saying they wanted their own districts for the good of their students, there was precious little discussion about academics and student performance, and when there was any, it was drowned out by the political Greek chorus about how easily the towns could create their own districts.

All it would take was passage of a sales tax increase to the statutory limit and a modest property tax increase.   There has been a strong element of magical thinking by these towns’ elected officials, anchored in the notion that they can create districts and ramp up without any significant costs.  These days, reality has set in, and the towns are learning, to paraphrase the president, that education is complicated.

And it’s only beginning.  The towns are building new buildings and issuing bonds that will drive up bonded indebtedness payments, but also the operating costs of the schools themselves.

Still Mad About Three Schools

Meanwhile, Germantown officials still chafe over the fact that three former schools in the old county school districts located within the town are still operated by the new county school district.

Germantown is once again offering to buy the three schools for $25 million, and once again, there has been little justification on the basis of improving education for students, including those who attend these three schools now.

There are people in the town who say that Germantown deserves the schools without any payment because they were paid for by Germantown residents in the first place.  Actually, most of the costs of these schools were paid for by the citizens of Memphis through their Shelby County taxes.

Most observers predict that the offer from Germantown is dead on arrival.  It would seem to us that if town officials want Shelby County Schools officials to listen, they need to increase the offer to match the replacement costs for the county district if it has to build new schools for the students now in the three schools.

Closing The Gap

There is an argument that as the towns increase their property tax rates and the total tax burden between Memphis and the towns narrows, people looking to move within or to Shelby County no longer can say they are moving to Germantown or Collierville because of much lower taxes.  (This is not to say that Memphis does not have to resolve crime issues as well.)

Before the property tax increases in Germantown, the tax burden for someone there is $1.26 more a day than Memphis.  It’s $1.53 in Bartlett and $1.61 in Collierville.

Everyone has the right to decide where they want to live and there are many other factors than low taxes that factor into their decisions.  That said, paying lower taxes has for years been used as the reason for the massive relocation of people from Memphis to Shelby County’s towns.

The following are past posts about the towns’ decision to form their own school districts:

This is what we wrote January 20, 2012:

This week, the town mayors got a consultants’ report that said, surprise, they were right all along.

But considering that they hired the former Shelby County Schools superintendent, it really isn’t too much of a surprise.  This is one of those cases where there’s the feeling that the consultants were paid to tell the towns what they wanted to hear.  In fact, back in February at a public meeting in Germantown, Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy laid out what the bedroom community needed to do to create its own school district.   Her observations were parroted in this week’s report.

The other thing that’s telling about Mayor Goldsworthy’s comments about the school district was that she never talked about education.  It was all about politics.  It was about counting votes on the planning commission to marginalize any influence by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, an objective that received warm applause from the crowd.

That in a nutshell does in fact sum up the back story on the towns’ school districts.  It is all about political power, not student performance.  It is about isolationism, and the fulfillment of a derivative and vanilla world that shuns “the other” and clings to a community of the “right people.”

We’re not suggesting that these are evil people, but they aren’t exactly noble either.  As usual, we are disappointed more in Mayor Goldsworthy and Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald because they are smart enough to know how cynical their actions are.  This week, the towns finally got the rose-colored glasses’ view of town school districts that they have wanted.

We wrote this May 18, 2012:

Germantown Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy said she was looking for “hopefully a very rational, reasonable group of people figuring out how to do this and hopefully they would be receptive to all sorts of creative ideas about how schools might advance in Shelby County.”

But then again, she was talking about the unified school transition planning committee.  That same reasonableness never seemed to be applied to the suburban school advocates themselves, as the towns rushed headlong toward a future of municipal districts with a lot of talk about excellent schools but without a real plan that emphasizes academics as much as politics.

Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner said that his town is working to “get education right” although there’s no consultants’ study about academic performance, teacher excellence, classroom size, and other issues affecting school success in the town districts.  Unfortunately, the town school issue has turned into a political campaign in the towns where the emphasis is on getting out the vote instead of getting out all the information and creating an informed electorate.

This is what we wrote August 20, 2012:

In other words, the towns always exhibited a prideful ownership of their schools and the pervasive disconnect between financial reality and political fantasy produced an air of invulnerability and superiority that came crashing down when Memphians voted to end their double taxation for schools.

Being jolted into a world where the towns’ wishes are no longer put at the top of the list of county investments has been a source of the pain for town residents and helps explain the derisive, angry nature of their comments about Memphis and now the Shelby County commissioners who represent Memphis.  As usual, it all feeds the victimology that runs through so many comments by suburban politicians.

This is what we wrote November 30, 2012:

Meanwhile, the town mayors continue to say that there only concern is about the academic achievement of the children within their borders, but notably, there has been no study about how to improve student performance. There’s only been one to justify what the mayors already believed.  One of the hallmarks of childish behaviors is magical thinking, and nothing defines the town mayors’ point of view more than that these days.

This is what we wrote July 29, 2013:

More than anything, the municipal school districts pursuit has been driven by fear, fictions, and suburban politics (with a strong dose of anti-Memphis venom) more than a passion for better student classroom performance or a plan to move these schools to a level where they perform at levels more commensurate with other schools where students have similar socio-economic profiles.

What’s really unseemly about the municipal schools movement is the way that suburban legislators are willing to tilt the scales away from fairness and compromise with legislation that injects state government into affairs that should be decided locally.


Join us at the Smart City Memphis Facebook page for daily articles, reports, and commentaries relevant to Memphis.