A $75 Million Error on MCS Funding



Call it "The Case of the Missing 7,000 Students." But you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure this one out.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals makes a whopper of an error in its decision this week on the funding for Memphis City Schools. If you do the math, it comes out to $75 million in school expenses, and that's an amount that should get members of the Memphis City Council doing some homework before raising anyone's taxes or forking over millions of dollars to MCS.

On the second page of its ruling, the court says MCS "serves approximately 112,000 students." No, it does not. According to MCS, the system serves "about 105,000" students. The Tennessee Report Card says the actual number is 104,829 students. School funding is determined by enrollment. The per-pupil funding (from all sources) for MCS is $10,394. Multiply that by 7,171 — the difference between the actual enrollment and the number the appeals court wrongly assumes to be accurate — and the result is approximately $75 million.

If the state Court of Appeals doesn't know how many students there are in MCS, you have to wonder two things: Does ANYONE know how many students there really are in MCS, and how many other false assumptions does the appeals court make?

MCS enrollment has long been a guessing game. You can find numbers as high as 118,000 and as low as 103,000 in various press reports, report cards, and MCS publications in recent years. One thing is clear: the trend is down. In 2007, according to the Tennessee Report Card, MCS had 110,753 students.

The bigger the number, the greater the funding. Or the bigger the ripoff.

Before it makes a decision about school funding, the Memphis City Council should bring Superintendent Kriner Cash and his lieutenants to City Hall and ask them this:

What is the current enrollment, and how do you know this?

What was the enrollment for the last five years?

How many students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, and how do you know this? Are you issuing blanket certifications to schools to maximize federal funds and turn cafeterias into profit centers?

Why did you build Manassas High School and Douglass High, both of which are under-enrolled, at a cost of more than $45 million?

Why have you not closed schools in parts of the city where there are not enough students to fill them?

Today's city school student is tomorrow's county school student, and vice-versa. Shelby County has been operating schools in annexation areas for years, then turning them over to MCS. Next up in the batting order is Southwind High School, with nearly 1,500 students.

Blogger Tom Jones makes an important point in his Smart City post about city of Memphis residents being taxed twice for city and county schools, while county residents are taxed only once. The bottom line is that there are plenty of questions that need to be answered before MCS collects any more money from Memphis taxpayers.

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