Another Shelby County Board of Commissioners’ budget vote, another shortchanging of public schools in Shelby County.

It all began just over a decade ago with a change in the Shelby County budget resolution that radically changed decades of tradition and fair play in school funding.

Before the change, schools – like county services – were rewarded when property taxes increased.  For example, if property taxes grew by three percent, the school budget grew three percent.

The change from that policy, however, meant that instead, schools began to receive a flat amount each year regardless of the growth in county revenues.

As a result, county schools have received millions of dollars less than they would have received under the previous policy, which prevented the seamless planning that could take place with an orderly growth in its budget.

“The change in funding from tax allocations to a definite amount during the Wharton administration was a blatant anti-schools move to keep schools from receiving any growth money from their county revenue sources,” said Jimmie Covington, veteran journalist and expert in school funding. “I believe that commissioners who support setting a definite amount for schools are taking an anti-schools position, whether they understand it or not.”

That said, it’s possible that no commissioner can fully explain or understand school funding, the basis for the number in the county budget for schools, and the impact of the lost revenues on school planning and budgets.

Speaking of lost revenues, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners’ failure to change PILOT policy to make schools whole costs public schools an estimated $10 million a year.

Back to the county budgets for schools, the following commentary was posted at and is written by Jimmie Covington, veteran Memphis reporter with lengthy experience covering schoolsgovernment, and demographic issues. He is a contributing writer with The Best Times, a monthly news magazine for active people 50 and older.

As I see it: Luttrell’s proposed tax rate ordinance would reduce the tax allocation going to schools

By Jimmie Covington

The proposed property tax rate ordinance presented by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell would reduce the tax allocation going to schools by five cents and the portion going to debt service by seven cents while increasing the county general fund’s part by six cents.

If approved by County Commission members, the net result would be a six-cent reduction in the property tax rate from $4.11 to $4.05.

Luttrell has traditionally presented a proposed tax ordinance and general budget proposal that include school funds although neither state law nor the county charter gives the county mayor any authority to make any recommendation on school funding.

The charter says the charter does not apply to the county school board, the superintendent or school funding for any purpose.  The county school board budget goes directly to the County Commission and does not pass through the mayor. State law requires that the suburban municipal school systems receive a share of all funds the county provides for county schools based on average daily attendance.

The parts of county government that the mayor heads are in competition with schools for county funding.

The charter calls for the mayor to present a consolidated budget request covering all areas outside of schools.  Nowhere does it say that the mayor also is to present a tax rate proposal. Setting the tax rate is totally in the hands of the commissioners.

To be more specific about what the county mayor’s tax rate proposal does:

It shifts all of the five-cent anti-windfall recapture rate cut to the portion of the tax rate that was allocated to schools last year. None of that five cents cut is applied to the general fund and debt service portions of the tax rate that fall within the county mayor’s responsibility.

Last year’s 69-cent allocation for debt service is reduced to 62 cents in this year’s proposal and the general fund allocation is raised from $1.43 to $1.49, a six-cent increase. That provides the additional one-cent tax cut in Luttrell’s proposal.

A 13-cent appeals allowance was approved for last year’s post-reappraisal certified tax rate. State Board of Equalization officials held that the actual appeals results only required eight cents of the allowance. In effect, the additional five cents provided the government and schools with a reappraisal windfall this past year. Following state law, the state officials approved a five-cent recapture rate cut.

The county does not have to make that cut but it does have to give notice of its intent to exceed the recapture rate and hold a public hearing before it exceeds the recapture rate.

I think it is fair to say that the county mayor is proposing that the portions of county government the mayor heads retain and move into the future with virtually all of the windfall tax increase that was approved last year for those parts of the government.

It seems to me that a fair thing to do would be for county commissioners to reduce last year’s tax rate allocations for the general government, debt service and schools proportionally to cover the five-cent rate cut.

Then the commissioners could consider whatever shift the mayor wants to make from the debt service fund to the general fund allocation. If the county mayor feels a tax increase is needed to fund the county’s general fund, commissioners should consider that increase. Also, commissioners should do what they feel is proper and fair for funding schools without any influence or recommendation from the mayor.

Here’s our post from July 11, 2017: School Funding Takes Direct Hit From County Budget Change.

Here’s Mr. Covington’s post from February 16, 2018: Politics Limits County Government Money For Schools.


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