Commissioners discuss tax increase to fund MSCS request for millions to repair old buildings

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – A recurring issue is the focus of a big financial ask to the county commission from Memphis-Shelby County school leaders.

Old, dilapidated buildings within the district are at the center of a multi-million dollar funding request to county commissioners.

School leaders are proposing a $55 million capital improvement project budget for next year, that’s $33 million more than what is currently budgeted for this fiscal year.

The proposal was discussed during Wednesday’s Shelby County Commission budget committee meeting.

“Our students deserve to walk into a world class facility where they can learn, grow and compete globally,” said MSCS superintendent Dr. Joris Ray.

Within the district there are 33 schools that are 50 years or older.

School leaders told county commissioners Wednesday it’s time for much needed repairs, and, in some cases, it’s time to demolish some of the old buildings and start new.

There was a debate among commissioners about whether or not the county should consider raising taxes to fund the increased budget request.

Collierville residents, for example, voted to raise their taxes to help pay for their state of the art school building.

“The question here is if they’re willing to raise the taxes out in the suburb to fund their kids because they think that much of their kids, why can’t we do the same for our kids,” asked Commissioner Van Turner.

Superintendent Ray remained neutral on the subject of raising taxes to fund schools.

“I want to support anything it takes for our students to have the best facilities in the country. They deserve it,” said Ray.

Commissioner Eddie Jones said under the current tax rate, the county already has a surplus in funds that could be designated for MSCS.

Dr. Mekel Richardson’s son attends Whitehaven Elementary School.

She says her son’s school excels in STEM classes, but they struggle with simple maintenance repairs such as HVAC upkeep.

However she doesn’t think increasing taxes is the answer.

“For those of us that can afford it of course we do support it, but we have to look at the entire city. We have to look at the bigger picture. Yes we want more for our students but do we want to hurt our families more financially in order to get that?” said Richardson.

There was also a question from a County Commissioner about the city contributing more to Memphis-Shelby County Schools budget.

An overwhelming majority of students within MSCS live within the city limits, hence the reason for the name change.

Dr. Ray said he is speaking with city leaders about increasing their contributions.

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