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Memphis May Delay School Opening Over Finances

The Memphis City school board, no stranger to picking battles with its neighbors, has thrown down yet another gauntlet: The board has voted not to open schools August 8 as previously scheduled until the city pays $55 million in tax revenue due to the district.

The move prompted the city today to offer $13 million to the district yesterday, according to an article in the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. But the larger funding issues remain unresolved.

When last we wrote about Memphis, the 105,000-student district was struggling with neighboring Shelby County Schools over a March vote to merge the two systems.

The movement to push through a merger by referendum of Memphis voters began last year. Leaders of the 45,000-student Shelby County district had long wanted to get "special school district" status for the system, which would allow it to freeze its boundaries and gain taxing authority.

Currently, Shelby County and Memphis city taxpayers have their tax dollars pooled, then redistributed to each school system based on population. Memphis, as the higher-enrollment district, gets more of the money. The merger vote was seen as a way to prevent county tax dollars from being taken away from Memphis schools. The parties have been wrangling over the details of a potential merger since that March vote.

This latest problem over funding developed back in the 2007-08 school year, when Memphis schools was due a $59.8 million payment from the city coffers, but only received $24.9 million in an attempt by the city to balance its budget (The Memphis district's operating budget is about $774 million.) The Tennessee Supreme Court eventually ruled that the city needed to pay the money to the schools, leading to this showdown.

Both sides are meeting this afternoon, and if the district gets assurances that the money from the city is coming, school board chairman Martavius Jones said he will call a special board meeting to reinstate the school start date.

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