By Jimmie Covington

The combined weighted average daily attendance (WFTEADA) in the Shelby County school system, including state achievement schools and charter schools, dropped below 77 percent of the countywide total for public schools during the last school year.

The weighted ADA (Average Daily Attendance) in the county system and related schools was the lowest since the six suburban school districts went into operation in August 2014. 

It means that county school system and schools associated with it will receive less funding than indicated in budgets adopted in June 2021 since budgets are based on the previous year’s attendance ratios. 

In the first year, 2014-2015, the county system, which includes schools in Memphis and several schools in the county outside Memphis, had 79.5 percent of the weighted full-time equivalent average daily attendance (WFTEADA). 

Collierville’s public school district continued to have the highest weighted ADA and the highest percentage among the county’s suburban school districts – 6.29%. 

The weighted figures are higher than regular attendance numbers. Under the state’s formula, the numbers are weighted differently in different groups of grades in kindergarten through grade 12. There is also a higher weighting for some special education students and for vocational students. 

The WFTEADA figures, based on state certification, were filed by county schools superintendent Dr. Joris Ray with Shelby County Trustee Regina Morrison Newman earlier in the spring.

The weighted ADA percentages are used to divide revenues from the portion of the county’s property tax, the local option sales tax and wheel tax allocated for school operations among the county and municipal school systems. 

County bonds for school construction are also divided based on the weighted percentages.

The WFTEADA percentages for the past year (with the previous year’s percentages in parentheses) are: 

Shelby – 76.4796 (77.00%)

Arlington – 3.6470 (3.47%)

Bartlett – 6.1989 (6.06%)

Collierville – 6.4351 (6.29%)

Germantown – 4.2673 (4.21%)

Lakeland – 1.2706 (1.25%)

Millington – 1.7015 (1.72%) 

The WFTEADA numbers for the year (with the previous year’s numbers in parentheses) are:

Shelby – 127,607 (134,123)

Arlington – 6,085 (6,044)

Bartlett – 10,343 (10,564)

Collierville – 10,737 (10,954)

Germantown – 7,120 (7,342)

Lakeland – 2,120 (2,173)

Millington – 2,839 (2,991)

County Total – 166,851 (174,191) 

It is not clear what led to the major drop in the weighted attendance in schools operated by the Shelby County school board and the schools operated in conjunction with schools in the county system. 

I have not seen any reports from Memphis media outlets on whether members of the county school board or the County Commission discussed the issue although the WFTEADA is an important financial issue among the county’s schools. 

The WFTEADA each year results in millions of dollars shifting among school districts. 

Up through the county administrations of Bill Morris and Jim Rout, officials allocated various tax sources to support schools and the school systems received all the revenue those taxes provided. This approach was supported by a majority on the County Commission who were supportive of more funding for schools. 

However, that changed about 2007 when A C Wharton was county mayor. A couple of Republican members of the commission led an effort to have the commission cap the amount of property tax revenue schools receive the amount listed in the education fund section of the county budget. The commissioners tried various approaches but they failed. The problem was that the commission does not have the authority to limit the amount of revenue that schools receive from the portion of the property tax rate allocated to schools. Wharton, a Democrat, and Democrats on the commission at the least acquiesced to these moves. 

I don’t know exactly when it started but records show that when Mark Luttrell, a Republican, was county mayor and David Lenoir, a Republican, was county trustee, there was an approach under which the trustee held back part of the property tax revenue for schools from one fiscal year to the next when collections exceeded the amount in the budgeted education fund. 

It was never clear that the trustee had the authority to hold back the funds. I posted information about this approach several times and notified two county school board members, but I never saw any reports that the school board members made any public comments about the approach. 

It is unclear whether the postings had anything to do with it, but while Luttrell and Lenoir were still in office, the approach was changed to one that has continued under county Mayor Lee Harris, a Democrat, and a County Commission that consists of eight Democrats and five Republicans. Under a commission resolution if the combined wheel tax and property tax revenue for schools exceeds the amount budgeted in the education fund, the wheel tax revenue is reduced and the “excess” wheel tax revenue is placed in a special reserve fund to be allocated at the “discretion” of commissioners. 

The county reappraisal appeals allowance was set six cents too high last year in the 2021 tax year property tax rate. In setting a recapture tax rate in June for the 2022 tax year, the commission reduced the county property tax rate by six cents. Six cents on the county property tax rate equates at least $12 million in county property tax revenues. 

In the 2021 tax year, that was windfall revenue for the county since the 2022 recapture rate only applies to the 2022 tax year and is not retroactive. About half of the county property tax rate is allocated to schools. 

Have or will schools receive any of that windfall? No. 

In the 2022 fiscal year’s budget, schools, including the county system and county related schools plus the suburban districts, are limited to the $427,259, 000 budgeted in the education fund as property tax and wheel tax funds. Whatever extra in property tax funds received by schools in property tax revenue has been or will be offset by a reduction in the wheel tax revenue the county gives to schools. 

We probably will have to wait until late this calendar year for the county’s fiscal 2022 comprehensive financial report to reveal the figures. The county administration and commission cannot manipulate the revenue that schools receive under state law as schools’ one-half share of the countywide local option sales tax. The sales tax revenue is handled by the state Revenue Department and county trustee and does not pass through the commission. 

Overall, what we have here is that since the days of Bill Morris and Jim Rout as county mayors and the commissions that served with them, schools have lost or been deprived of millions of dollars in revenue as a result of actions that were initiated by Republicans with either the acquiescence or support of Democrats. 

It continues today. Although they support what is happening, it is doubtful that the current set of elected officials knows much, if anything, about the history of the situation.


This post is written by Jimmie Covington, veteran Memphis reporter with lengthy experience and knowledge covering governmental, school, and demographic issues. He is a contributing writer with The Best Times, a monthly news magazine for active people 50 and older.


Join us at the Smart City Memphis Facebook page and on Instagram for blog posts, articles, and reports relevant to Memphis.