June 7, 2019 – Shelby County Schools presented its $1.4 billion dollar budget to the County Commission May 29 but said they need more than what is in their budget. Superintendent Joris Ray said the operating budget needs $7.5 million more and asked the County Commission to provide it. The school system is also asking for more for its capital improvements budget.
Several County Commissioners spoke in favor of the $7.5 million request. One, however, had a different point of view. The reasoning behind Commissioner Reginald Milton’s viewpoint is one that is not often heard from elected officials when discussing funding for education. The Daily Memphian briefly reported on this in their story about the school system’s budget presentation. Milton’s comments are so different than what has been said publicly by others over the years regarding schools, a fuller coverage may be warranted. Here is what Milton said on the subject at a May 29, 2019, County Commission committee meeting.
County Commissioner Reginald Milton: “You said 23% of our students are college ready.”
Shelby County Schools Superintendent Joris Ray: “Yes.”
Milton: “How many of our valedictorians are prepared for college?”
Ray: “The number of valedictorians prepared for college, probably 54%.”
Milton: “So about half of our valedictorians are not prepared for college.”
Milton: “Right. Do you care about our kids?
Ray: “Care about them deeply, sir.”
Milton: Do you love the children you are working with?”
Ray: “Love and”
Milton: “I know you do. I know the work you are doing you are 100% committed. Every day of your life this is what you are here to do. I believe you. I sincerely do. Twenty-three percent are college ready. Something’s wrong, right? And commissioners, the point I’m trying to bring here is that the reality is that they are an institution. That’s what they are. They are just, they are an entity that we’ve created and every time we have problems we turn to them. If our children aren’t eating right, we say you take care of it. If our children have mental issues, you take care of it. If our children don’t have a place to go in the afternoon, you take, we throw everything on this institution and expect this institution to solve the problem. The truth is they will never solve this problem. They’re an institution and they’re in to do a specific thing and that’s to educate our children.
We’re sending them children that have challenges that they’ll never be able to correct. There are problems that happen before they walk into the doors of this institution. And no matter how much we tweak it, now if we keep telling them to do it, they’re going to do it because they’ll never say no to us. We can say we want you to do, we want you to solve all these problems, none of them will ever say no. They’ll say, yes commissioner, give us more money. And they will try. And they will fail. The reality is that the real challenges is not that these people are not doing their jobs. They are doing their jobs but we’re giving them tasks beyond their scope.
“We have to invest in other issues that go beyond education and that requires that sometimes we have to, here comes the bad part, say no to you. That sometimes these dollars we cannot direct to you because you’re not going to solve it. But we need to address other issues.
“I walked through south Memphis and Orange Mound, I see roofs that are leaking and falling down, there’s mold, black mold in these homes these children are breathing it, there’s just, that’s this and there’s lead in these communities. You are not going to solve those problems. And it doesn’t matter how much money I give you, you’re not going to solve it. So there has to be a point where I sit there and say, you know what, no. I’m going to take this chunk of money and I’m going to give it to this and I’m going to have them address it,this, and because I know if we can solve this it’s going to solve your problem. And I can say that because none of you can say this: that I have ever said no to you when you come before us for funding. I have never once said no. On the $7.5 million: no. I think we need, our budgets are tight, we need to be looking in another direction. I think you do great jobs but we need to be looking outside of you because you can’t solve all these problems.”
With that, Milton relinquished the floor.
There have been about $75 million in proposed amendments to the budgets offered by Mayor Lee Harris, of which about two thirds are said to be requests from Shelby County Schools.
The County Commission next meets Monday, June 10 and plans to pass the budget at its June 24 meeting. The fiscal year for which this budget will apply starts July 1.