Capping three straight days of public comments, staff revisions, and discussion among members, the board got the job done in about 90 minutes in an early afternoon meeting. It is the first budget presented by the combined Memphis and Shelby County school boards and is $75 million less this year's combined budgets. Some members confessed to being groggy after the long work week and watching the Grizzlies play until nearly midnight Wednesday.
"I think we have done the best job we could to cut $75 million but keep as far away from classroom cuts as possible," said Superintendent Dorsey Hopson.
The budget has a deficit of $30 million that will have to addressed by the county commission. Hopson said the deficit started at $57 million, so the smaller deficit represents progress, and board members noted that the budget request is lower than the one proposed by the Transition Planning Commission.
It makes some cuts the TPC did not recommend but declines to make others on the scale recommended by the TPC, notably in the area of school closings. Facing intense pressure to get schools open this summer, and working under the eye of federal court-appointed special master Rick Masson, the board left that debate for another year. Enrollment projections released by the schools administration this week peg the unified system at about 138,000 students. Charter schools and Achievement School District schools bring the total to about 150,000. The unified system is expected to shrink drastically next year if suburbs form their own systems.
Voting against the budget were former MCS board members Kenneth Whalum Jr., Sara Lewis, and Betty Mallott. Among those voting for it were the prime movers of MCS charter surrender, Martavius Jones and Tomeka Hart.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell has proposed a property tax increase that would partially offset the deficit. If it passes, the combined Shelby County and Memphis property tax rate, based on numbers currently being considered by the commission and city council, could be right around $8.