The Commercial Appeal reports that an education task force formed to study consolidation of the Memphis and Shelby County school systems has instead reported on three potential methods to change the way those school systems are funded, without consolidating.
All three freeze the current school system boundaries, to avoid the conflict that inevitably arises when Memphis annexes property, and the residents don’t want to change from Shelby County to Memphis City Schools.
The differences fall in who gets taxed more, and whether those tax dollars stay in the resident’s school district or go predominantly toward the other. In all cases, taxing authority is removed from the City or County government, and placed in the hands of the school boards (and/or State Legislature).
Despite the fact that under the current system, for every dollar raised by Shelby County taxpayers for their own schools, $3 goes to the Memphis City Schools (due to the fact that the County system has three times as many students), the fact that Memphis teacher salaries are the highest in the state, and that Memphis spends more per student than any school system in Tennessee, Memphis school officials aren’t happy with the proposals:
“Every time the community, the powers-that-be, have a conversation about schools, I feel like Memphis city schools comes second,” Memphis school board member Wanda Halbert said. “That’s starting to weigh heavy on me.”
I think what would weigh heavy on me is spending that much money to produce the worst results in the state. I know that Memphis has a higher density of students that are more difficult — more expensive — to educate, but sooner or later, someone’s going to have to come up with a plan that correlates dollars with results.
That doesn’t mean that they have to produce the greatest number of National Merit Finalists, but there has to be a workable plan for improvement. Perhaps a good start would be to require that teachers show positive value-added scores for any pay increase (including cost-of-living); step increases should require documentation of extraordinary gains — perhaps measured by a combination of value-added test scores and other means.
Just paying the same teachers more — more than any others in the state — clearly isn’t getting the job done.