July 20, 2011 / 7:09 PM / 7 years ago

Memphis school start delayed over funding issue

MEMPHIS, Tenn (Reuters) - Memphis city council and school board members were scrambling Wednesday to come up with solutions after the board voted to indefinitely delay the start of school until it gets $55 million in city funds.

The 103,000 students in the public school system are scheduled to begin classes on August 8th. The board voted for the delay Tuesday.

“We have to take this seriously,” said Memphis city councilman Shea Flinn. “But we are not going to shortchange them. The saber-rattling is unnecessary.”

He said he hoped a resolution will be reached Thursday when council and board members are scheduled to meet.

The city school system has a budget of about $1.2 billion from federal, state, local, and private sources. The city of Memphis contributes less than 10 percent of the school system’s budget.

Memphis residents also pay taxes for the Shelby County school system outside the city limits, which is wealthier and higher performing than the city system.

The funding issue is complicated by the fact that the Memphis board voted eight months ago to surrender its charter and be taken over by the Shelby County school system.

Court challenges and countersuits were filed, and the matter is now in the hands of a federal judge in Memphis who is expected to rule as early as the end of July.

If the judge rules that the city system is dissolved, he might also rule that Memphis does not have to make its annual schools contribution. The city council earlier this year passed a property tax increase to cover its contribution in case the judge rules the funding must continue for some period.

Writing and reporting by John Branston; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Tim Gaynor

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