Shelby County Schools will have a little more than $47 million in capital funding to make building improvements for the next school year, but superintendent Dorsey Hopson II said that amount only begins to address the district’s facilities needs.

“We’ve had three years without any capital investments,” Hopson told the media after presenting the district’s capital budget request to the Shelby County Commission’s budget and finance committee on Wednesday. “And maintenance on many of our buildings has been deferred.”

To emphasize the level of need at some district schools, Hopson included in his presentation photos of overcrowded hallways and classrooms at Berclair and Wells Station, which are operating at more than 200 percent capacity.

“In these schools, we have two to three classes in one classroom,” Hopson said. “That’s not conducive to instruction. They’re using partitions to separate the classes, and the partitions don’t go all the way up to the ceiling.”

Hopson told commissioners that all grade levels are affected in those schools.

“I apologize if I’m getting emotional, but this is serious business,” Hopson said.

The capital budget request includes classroom additions and renovations at Berclair Elementary, Wells Station Elementary, Cordova Elementary, Chimneyrock Elementary and Germantown High, and grade reconfigurations at Woodstock middle, Barret and Jeter elementary schools. The request also includes a replacement school for Westhaven Elementary that will also serve students from Raineshaven and Fairley elementaries. The total cost for the construction projects is $51.6 million, according to SCS reports.

During Wednesday’s meeting, the commission heard from Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, who asked the body to consider only giving the district $13.9 million in capital funding. Luttrell advocated for a study, which would cost $1 million, to determine the long-range capital needs of the district.

Luttrell’s resolution seemed to draw the ire of Commissioners Mike Ritz and Walter Bailey Jr.

Ritz and Bailey asked Luttrell why he had what they called a “sudden interest” in Shelby County Schools capital requests and whether he questioned the capabilities of Shelby County Schools administrators.

“I’ll continue to be involved in every aspect of the budget,” Luttrell replied. “I don’t think this is unique for me. Maybe it was for my predecessors, but I think it’s appropriate that I be involved.”

Commissioner Steve Mulroy presented a resolution to amend Luttrell’s $13.9 resolution to increase it to $47,356,500.00.

“We don’t need a study,” Mulroy said. “Hopson has already made a persuasive case, the administration has already picked and chosen the (high) needs areas.”

Commissioner Melvin Burgess, who is also a Shelby County Schools employee, supported Mulroy’s amendment.

“Who knows the needs of the schools better?” said Burgess, adding that money needed to fund the study could be put to better use. “A million dollars, that could be spent on 13 to 14 teachers.”

Mulroy’s resolution wasn’t for the full amount initially requested by the district — $3 million was taken out of the request for safety features such as fire alarms, which aren’t covered under capital requests, and $1 million for contingencies was also removed.

Shelby County Commissioners approved Mulroy’s amended resolution in a 10-to-3 vote.  Commissioners Heidi Schafer, Mark Billingsley and Chris Thomas were the dissenting votes on the issue.

Following the meeting, Shelby County board chairman Kevin Woods thanked the commission for its support.

“We take this (budget) process seriously,” Woods said. “The board is committed to transparency.”

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at tcheshier@chalkbeat.org and (901) 730-4013.

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