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Ordinance would resubmit school district question to city’s residents

By Bill ShortFlag City Logo

The Millington Board of Mayor and Aldermen passed an ordinance on first and second reading this week that would resubmit the school district question to voters.
The first reading was approved Monday night at the board’s regular monthly meeting and the second reading yesterday afternoon at a special called meeting.
The ordinance is scheduled for a public hearing and final reading at a May 20 special meeting.
It would add a Chapter 5 to Title 1 of the Code of Ordinances to authorize the creation and funding of a municipal school district and to submit the ordinance to Millington residents in a July 16 referendum.
Board members also passed separate ordinances on first and second reading this week that are designed to revoke two ordinances approved at a May 29, 2012 special called meeting that authorized a school district and school board for Millington.
City Attorney Charles Perkins said he believes the previous ordinances should be revoked to remove “any other challenge” prior to passing the new ordinance. The revoking ordinances are also scheduled for a public hearing and final reading at the May 20 meeting.
The board believes a municipal school system, as authorized by the City Charter, would promote the public welfare of Millington through “enhancement of educational innovation, opportunity and achievement,” and would possess a student population of sufficient size to comply with state requirements.
The Tennessee Board of Education requires that, to operate its public schools, a municipal school system must raise and spend local funds each year that would be at least equal to the amount that would be raised through a 15-cent tax levy on each $100 of taxable property.
The municipal school district would take effect at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year.
Noting that Millington residents approved a half-cent increase in the local sales tax rate last year, Perkins said it will generate revenue “far above” the required 15-cent equivalent.
If the new ordinance is passed on final reading, and a majority of Millington’s residents approve it in the July 16 referendum, Perkins has said the board must pass an ordinance in August that schedules a new school board election. He believes that election could be conducted on or around Nov. 7.
“If a school board is elected, then the Board of Mayor and Aldermen is out of it,” he noted. “The school board takes control, and it makes all the decisions.”
Calling it a “very long, very complex process,” Perkins said the school board will be responsible for employing a superintendent, who basically hires everyone else. But he also acknowledged that the superintendent must go to the Tennessee commissioner of education for approval.
Alderman Mike Caruthers said the school board would submit a proposed budget to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, which would be expected to fund it.
When Alderman Thomas McGhee noted that there will be a “level” at which the city can fund the school board’s budget, Perkins said that will be determined by the amount of local sales tax revenue generated.
“Roughly, 90 percent of the budget comes from the state,” he said. “The county pretty much provides the rest, except for the small part that you’re providing.”
If the residents approve the referendum, Caruthers said, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen could create a position for a “professional schools coordinator” to come in and “start the process.” Noting that the position would be funded by the sales tax revenue, he said the coordinator could be someone who the school board might want to have as the superintendent.
“We don’t have a lot of time,” he acknowledged. “This needs to be done before the people go vote.”
But Caruthers said he thinks it would first be “prudent” to have Southern Educational Strategies “update the numbers.” Last year, after the board commissioned it to conduct a study, SES submitted a report concluding that it is “feasible” for Millington to create its own school district.
During his monthly report shortly before the vote Monday night, City Manager Thomas Christie said that, although he believes this action should be “deferred” to a “more appropriate time,” he is in favor of a municipal school system “under specific conditions.”
Before the third reading of the ordinance, he said, the board should provide all possible opportunities for itself and the public to be “thoroughly educated” regarding the “logistical and financial ramifications” of operating a school system.
While noting that the city’s own proposed budget is more than $1 million “out of balance,” Christie acknowledged that the board has decided to take certain actions that will “somewhat” alleviate this situation.
“But most certainly, the board will need a combination of a property tax increase and the use of diminishing Reserves to deliver a balanced budget for fiscal year 2014,” he said. “Because the financial condition of the city will have an impact on the future ability of this city to support and fund a school system, I think it is imperative that everyone who is going to be making this decision have a thorough knowledge of everything.”
Louise Kennon was one of the seven unopposed candidates in last November’s election for what would have been the Millington Municipal School Board. During the portion of Monday night’s meeting designated for public comments on agenda items, she said residents are already paying “school funds” out of the sales and property taxes.
“So, you don’t have to look at that,” she said. “The thing you need to look at is what the school system will do for this city.”
If Millington has its own school system, Kennon said, it will control what it does with the schools.
“I have watched good people being let go and some not so good kept,” she noted. “We have no control over that. But we will control our own schools if we get it.”
Patricia Bryant of 6856 Kay Cove, a resident of Millington for about 40 years, called it a “bad time” to create a school system. She said the state has not determined whether the municipalities can have the school buildings that are located inside their city limits.
“As I understand it, there is some state legislation for January to maybe make a decision about that,” she noted. “I would like us to wait until some of those decisions have been made. If you vote on a school district now, all you’re going to get is pulled into all the lawsuits that happened from the last time.”
James Knipple, who served as Millington’s first finance director for 26 years, said he would “love nothing better” than to see the city have its own school district if it can afford one.
While “strongly” encouraging the board members to look carefully at every aspect of school operations, he said that includes administration, salaries/benefits, transportation, janitorial services, dining facilities, purchasing, depreciation, legal services, insurance and capital improvements.
Knipple said it is the board’s responsibility to ensure that Millington is able to fully fund these operations without jeopardizing its financial status. He also said there should be a series of public meetings to give all the city’s residents the opportunity to ask questions and satisfy themselves about what is best for Millington.
“It is easy to push for something we want when we do not have all of the facts,” he concluded. “I implore you to carefully examine all of the facts before you proceed to move us into this school business.”

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