“Warn your neighbors and friends?”

Jeff Brown continues to champion a narrative that schools are going to be overcrowded despite the clear data that states otherwise. I have been out of town for two weeks out west celebrating my 10 year anniversary with my wife and then spending a week elk hunting with my Father. When I got home I was made aware of comments by Alderman Massey on one of Dr. Brown’s posts. See below.

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He gives no factual basis for stating it is flawed data. Just because the outcome of professional analysis doesn’t support your personal theory doesn’t mean it is wrong.

Betsy Landers’ treasurer happens to be my Father. Betsy is a friend from church. So, as you can see, the roots of whatever conspiracy he is insinuating have a real shady basis (I am rolling my eyes as I write this). The problem is that Alderman Massey implies that everything is a conspiracy. If you are friends, neighbors, members of a commission or club or just support the same person you are clearly part of a conspiracy in his mind.

Alderman Massey uses his platform to question people, so now I am going to use my platform to provide the truth.

His comments insinuate that my father and sister are of questionable character and that the public should be warned. This conversation could be about any of the people listed above. Alderman Massey impugns the character of anyone that disagrees with him. That includes many good people who he believes have no valid opinions because in his eyes they support the mayor. He doesn’t attack the ideas; he attacks people.

So yes, warn your “neighbors and friends” that a man who is a nationally respected financial professional is supporting the election of School Board candidate Betsy Landers. A man with integrity, my father, founded a company which pioneered fee-only financial planning in the Mid-South. Making sure that his company’s goal aligned with clients as opposed to selling the highest commission product. Yes, warn people that a man that helped establish Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis and raised his kids to work on weekends putting siding on houses in Rossville is supporting a candidate.

He is so nefarious he is receiving the lifetime achievement award from the Estate Planning Council of Memphis and has been a leader in the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis. On our drive home from the elk hunt, he spent an hour on the phone coaching a Missionary in Costa Rica whom he helps. I could go on and on about his work with Rotary International and many other community and mission organizations. Most of all, he is a man of faith; the basis of his integrity. I am proud to be his son. I can’t tell you how many people stop me to tell me what a good man he is.

He raised his daughter, who lost that election Mr. Massey mentioned, to give back to her community. Service that continues even after that loss, with thousands of volunteer hours in our schools. Not service for recognition, but service for love of our schools and the children of this community. He raised his daughter to have values that turn tragedy into hope for others. She and her husband gave the ultimate gift of her late son’s organs following his untimely death at age 2.  She became an advocate for organ donation and took a role as a member of the Advisory Board for Mid South Transplant Foundation and the National Kidney Foundation.

Me, I am just lucky to call these people family. I am proud, too. So yes, I am on my soapbox but if you want to warn people about my family please go ahead and show them this blog.

I have only known Alys for a couple of years and honestly, I thank you for that Dean. Had you not blocked me, we would have probably would not have crossed paths. Your mission to suppress open conversation about issues brought us together. Alys and I stand by what we write. We have a common goal to covey the truth and provide context to a political environment that has become way too convoluted with spin and lies.

Your instinct to brand people as the “Mayor’s Supporters” is a detriment to you. You should learn that we all bring value and perspective to the conversation. Instead, you choose to ignore people who don’t align with your view. Either way, this election falls out, you will need to work with the citizens you look down upon. The issues facing this city require that we work together for the common good. Perhaps when you realize this, we can work together.

Note: It appears this post has since been deleted. Clearly Dr. Brown wants to maintain the perception of distance between him and Alderman Massey. I don’t blame him but how separate are they when they have both so strongly tied themselves to Candidate Barzizza?

 

Will Apartments Overcrowd GMSD Schools?

Recently, the issue came up as to whether GMSD has adequately planned for growth in the event of a full build-out in the city of Germantown. Specifically, will new apartments overcrowd our schools?

Parents and the community members can rest assured that GMSD officials are continuously reviewing data and monitoring student enrollment. They have identified our district’s needs based on Germantown’s projected growth and expected demographic changes. Armed with this information, GMSD has implemented the necessary capital improvement plans to meet our needs as a growing district.

Take a look below for more specific information.

Q & A with Superintendent Manuel:

What’s the current enrollment at GMSD schools?

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What is the difference between programmatic and optimal capacities?

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What are the capacity issues for our schools?

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What is being done to alleviate K-5 overcrowding?

Check out this link to see GMSD’s newest school being built.

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Will all portables be removed in the near future from GMSD campuses?

“Yes. We will be removing all portables once the new school is built and school numbers will be able to accommodate optimal staffing.”

See the link from GMSD’s website

 

What space will be available for growth when the new elementary school opens? 

“You can see the total amount of space available once we open [the new elementary school]. Please look at the attached link below. It shows our forecasts for total build out in the city.”

See the link from GMSD

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In the event of a total city build-out, could GMSD still accommodate all students?

“Even if the city was completely built out. We would have capacity at k-5. See chart below.”

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What about middle school students, what are your plans for them?

“We do not have any capacity at the middle school level and need a wing and additional gym at Houston Middle school.”

 

These numbers are all based on a demography report, are you sure it is accurate?

“The demographer was very accurate in his forecasts for all schools. In the first year after his study, he projected within 5 students in the k-5 grade band. The second year after his study, we had 57 students less than projected because the district reduced the number of transfer students we accepted.”

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Looking for more info? Check out this link from GMSD.

The Truth Behind Overcrowding at GMSD Schools

Getting our own municipal schools in Germantown wasn’t easy. Voters in each of the suburban towns and cities approved referendums on forming municipal school districts in August 2012. But the results were voided months later in a decision by U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays and the Tennessee state legislature responded in 2013 by passing a new law that lifted the statewide ban on the creation of such school districts. With the new law, aldermen in each of the six towns set a new election date for the same ballot questions.

After these legal battles and two votes of the citizens, the Germantown Municipal School District (GMSD) opened its doors in 2014. Since then, the district has grown, and the city has benefited from these excellent schools. Overall, the district has grown 638 (15%) resident students in its first four years according to the District’s 2017 Facilities Plan.

Achievements

During those four years, the District has achieved quite a lot.

  • Houston High School has the highest public high school district ACT average in the state for the third consecutive year
  • GMSD was named a District of Distinction in 2017 for work on Exceptional Student Education Transitional Experience
  • Houston Middle School counselors were recognized with the RAMP recognition from ASCA this year (the only middle school in Tennessee to meet qualifications for the counseling program award)
  • Memphis Business Journal recognized Houston High as both the Most Challenging High School and the #1 Best Public High School
  • Each year, Houston High sets new records for students in the HHS 30+ ACT club

Because of these accolades, GMSD has become a school district of choice for many young families as evidenced by how quickly sold signs replace for sale signs in Germantown. Since 2013, the average number of days on the market for Germantown homes has decreased 65% from 113 to just 40, according to statistics from the City of Germantown.

Capacity

As a result, many are concerned about overcrowding at our schools and wonder what the GMSD administration is doing about it. You may even see or hear some candidates campaigning on this topic.

In the Spring of 2017, the district hired a professional demographer to project enrollment for the district over the next ten years. If you want to read the entire study, it can be found here.

Total district enrollment is forecasted to increase by 286 students, or 4.9%, between 2016-17 and 2021-22. Total enrollment is forecasted to decline by 108 students, or -1.8%, from 2021-22 to 2026-27.

But what does this mean for our current schools’ capacity? Many are concerned that the schools are overcrowded, and students are suffering as a result. Let’s take a look at capacity.

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Screen Shot 2018-08-21 at 8.21.01 PM.pngMaximum capacity is defined as the number of students that can be accommodated within a classroom. The utilization rate determines how efficiently the student population and programs operate within the available classroom space. Utilization rates are at or above 90 percent at each school. The district strives for enrollment at each school to be below the maximum capacity allowed by state standards and as such has defined optimal capacity as 2 students per teacher below the state maximums.

To achieve an optimal capacity, the district committed to various options to balance enrollment among the elementary and middle schools. Utilization rates currently above the desired thresholds and are being addressed temporarily through the use of modular classrooms at Dogwood and Farmington. This is a legacy solution inherited from Shelby County Schools. Removing portables has been a high priority item for GMSD as evidenced by the investments at Riverdale which facilitated the removal of portables there.

However, as seen in the maps above, the opening of the new Forest Hill Elementary School in 2019 will provide relief to Dogwood, Farmington, and Riverdale Elementary. Rezoning students at Dogwood, Farmington, and Riverdale will relieve capacity issues at these schools, allow the removal of modular classrooms that have been added to Dogwood and Farmington, and allow the district to explore staffing at a more optimal capacity for teacher to student ratio.

GMSD is watching closely the growth at the middle school level as well. With support from the City, they are preparing to fund a $5 million expansion at Houston Middle School as soon as fiscal year 2020. The absolute need will be determined once GMSD has carefully reviewed growth projections, the results of revising the school transfer policy and the effects of zoning changes planned for the 2019-2020 school year.

Support from the City of Germantown

In fiscal year 2019, the City of Germantown’s general fund budget allocates $6.9 million to directly support GMSD. This includes $2.5 million in maintenance of effort funding required by the state.

What is maintenance of effort? If you remember our previous post The Truth About School Funding and Sales Taxes, we explain the term “Maintenance of Effort” (“MOE”) generally refers to a requirement placed upon many federally funded grant programs that the State Education Agency (SEA) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) or school districts, demonstrate that the level of State and local funding remains constant from year to year.(1)

Our public schools are mostly funded by revenue generated primarily from state sales tax and county property tax. Each county in Tennessee is required to operate and contribute funding for a public system of education. In order for a municipality to operate its own separate and independent district, the municipality must provide SUPPLEMENTAL funding. It is up to the municipal governing body to determine the amount and source of supplemental funding. We should all thank the administrators who crafted the wording of the resolution because they understood this and thus worded the referendum accordingly.

This is why the fiscal policy of tying school funding to a variable revenue source is dangerous. When sales tax revenues drop the only other source to pay that obligation is your property taxes. In a recession, not only would you have the negative impact of a down economy, the city would be in a position to be forced to raise your property taxes to meet the MOE requirements.

Additionally, the City of Germantown provides an additional $4.4 million to cover costs related to student safety and continuing the improvement of our school facilities.

More specifically:

  • $1 million for replacement of the failing boiler system at Riverdale School with an additional $1.5 million included in the fiscal year 2020 budget to complete the work
  • $1.36 million in debt service payments for the new elementary school currently under construction
  • $560,000 for school resource officers and crossing guards at each school
  • $500,000 for safety and security improvements at each school
  • $440,000 in debt service payments for the Riverdale addition
  • $355,000 court-mandated annual payment to Shelby County Schools
  • $200,000 each year for the next five years to help fund Houston Arts and Athletics Foundation field house construction and auditorium renovation projects at Houston High School.

As we head toward the November election, remember that your city government and the GMSD School Board actually has been planning for overcrowding in our schools and for any scenario growth in our city may throw at us.

Reference

(1)   Maintenance of Effort: The Basics 

 

 

 

Germantown Voice

You may notice that we changed our name.

The roots of this blog are based on our desire to address issues with persons, including elected officials, who have blocked and excluded many of our Germantown residents from Facebook conversations. Thus the name Blocked In Germantown.

However, as we enter the election season, this blog provides a forum to give a voice to Germantown citizens who have been silenced in Facebook discussions about our City.

Germantown Voice reflects the need for alternative sources of information about the important issues facing our city.

Tax Cuts?

  • Germantown is committed to long term financial stability with five year financial plans not one year budgets.
  • This planning method provides stability in the tax rate for those on fixed incomes, demonstrates ability to service debt to financial markets and allows flexibility in changing economic conditions.
  • At the June 11, 2018 BMA meeting, Alderman Massey made a motion to reduce the property tax rate by $0.11 without collaboration with city staff and no fiscal analysis to support his position. (motion failed 2-3, Massey & Barzizza voting yes)
  • Estimated impact of this cut is $1.8-$1.9 million to the city budget, and there was no recommendation on how to meet those cuts.
  • Disregarding a long-term plan would likely require annual tax increases and also reduce the stability of our finances. Essentially forcing the city to live “paycheck to paycheck.”

Municipal finances are complicated. As I discussed in the piece on school funding, the city is funded by multiple sources. The majority of that funding comes from property tax. In 2017, the Germantown tax rate was $1.97. Now how your bill is calculated is a little more complicated. The county assesses the value of your property and then you pay tax on 25% of that value. So, a $250k house at 25% is $62,500 of assessed value. You then divide that by 100 (the rate is per $100 of value) and multiply by $1.97 for a tax bill of $1,231. For a comparison, commercial properties pay 40% of the value of their property.

Near the end of the June 11, 2018 BMA meeting, Alderman Massey began questioning the City Administrator and Chairman of the FAC about how they came up with the tax rate. This meeting was the second reading of the budget, certainly a proper time to ask questions but probably not the best time to make fundamental changes to the budget that will be in place on July 1 or just 20 days from the meeting. The budget process has been ongoing for months. He has been at some of these meetings. He knows the work the City and FAC are doing to pull a budget together and it appears to have never approached the FAC or city staff with his proposal. What proposal? Alderman Massey made a motion to reduce the property tax rate by $0.11.

Link to YouTube Video of Massey’s remarks

Rightfully, he was questioned about his support for this cut. This is a 5.6% cut to the city’s primary source of funding. Do you have a budget in your household? I hope so. In essence, what Alderman Massey is proposing is to make the city live pay check to pay check. That would likely require annual tax increases and also reduce the stability of our finances. The city budgets for stability. The city administrator clearly states “we don’t do one year budgets we do a five year plan.” Admittedly, I don’t know all of their process but from the City Administrator’s presentation they clearly budget five year capital plans and do high level expense projections to at least that term. The debt projections presented went out to 2048. I can tell you that in corporate finance we look out 5-10 years and sometimes longer.

The city’s commitment to long term financial stability helps on many fronts. The idea is that our tax rates are stable for 5-6 years at a time and some times longer. That stability allowed the city to make it through the great recession without a tax increase. This happens by being able to build up reserves and then draw down on them as time goes on. It works much like your escrow account for taxes and insurance on a house.

The stability this method offers allows people on fixed incomes to budget accordingly and shows the financial markets we are a responsible community and have the ability to service our debts. These funding levels help to dictate the rates we are charged when we borrow money. It also gives the city flexibility to adjust to changing economic conditions as they did in 2008. These are all the reasons Germantown wins awards for their budget processes.

So what support and analysis did Alderman Massey bring for his proposed cut? None, merely a statement that “the ratios, I think, bear out that this will not change our ability to maintain the funding.” Budgets are not built on ratios, they are the product of observations and trends. As I said before, this process has been going on for months. A team of financial professionals from both the City and Financial Advisory Commission (FAC) have worked and reviewed the budget to get to this point. It clearly appears he has not asked anyone on staff to look at this and he has no analysis to support his claims. Alderman Massey has asked for transparency in government and transparency would be evaluating this proposed reduction thoroughly prior to voting on it. I am very concerned that there was no supporting documentation for this proposed cut and two Aldermen (Massey & Barzizza) voted for this not knowing the potential impact.

This is the City of Germantown’s budget ladies and gentlemen. The budget as presented projects property taxes of $32.8 million of property tax revenue. That implies that at the proposed rate of $1.95 (after a $0.02 reduction from 2017 for assessor adjustments) each penny of the tax rate generates $168,000 of revenue for the city. The proposed tax cut would result in a reduction of approximately $1,850,256. The city is required to have a balanced budget. I would like to see where the proposed cuts would come from to meet this type of reduction. Do they come from our ISO Class 1 Fire Department, award winning police department or any of the other great services offered by our city?

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The truth about school funding and sales taxes

It’s budget season again and inevitably we have claims about sales tax and school funding being tied to each other. If that sounds familiar it should, the same claims were made last year.

Everyone who purchases goods in the City of Germantown pays a 9.75% sales tax on those goods. That tax rate is made up of 7% for the State of Tennessee, 2.25% for Shelby County and 0.5% for the City of Germantown. In 2012, we voted to establish our own school district but to do so required that the city contribute funding equal to $0.15 of the property tax rate. This is only the City’s portion of funding. School funding is a mix of Municipal, County, State and Federal funds. To meet this obligation we voted to raise the City’s portion of the sales tax rate from 0.25% to 0.5%. The referendum was worded so that the funds would not to be tied to the schools but would easily meet the requirements for generating the funds the City would be obligated to contribute to GMSD. 

In other places, especially those with small independent school districts, public education is funded by a school tax. While school tax laws vary, typically, the taxing authority lies with the school board that determines the tax rate. Along with that power to levy taxes, the school board bears the responsibility of providing for the needs of the district with school tax revenue. This means the school board must balance their budget based on the revenue they generate from the school tax they levied on taxpayers. And ultimately, the Board of Education must answer to the public politically for the imposed tax rate and stewardship over revenues.

We don’t work that way here. Our school boards do not have the authority to levy a tax. Instead, our public schools are mostly funded by revenue generated primarily from state sales tax and county property tax. Each county in Tennessee is required to operate and contribute funding for a public system of education. In order for a municipality to operate its own separate and independent district, the municipality must provide SUPPLEMENTAL funding. It is up to the municipal governing body to determine the amount and source of supplemental funding within the parameters of state law. So, what are those parameters?

At this point lets stop for a moment to discuss maintenance of effort or MOE.

The term “Maintenance of Effort” (“MOE”) generally refers to a requirement placed upon many federally funded grant programs that the State Education Agency (SEA) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) or school districts, demonstrate that the level of State and local funding remains constant from year to year.(1)

Ask the City of Memphis about this. They famously tried to cut funding from Memphis City Schools and ran into issues with MOE. So what does MOE have to do with the sales tax? Great question! Sales taxes are elastic, meaning that they fluctuate based on economic conditions. More simply, it fluctuates based on how much you and I shop in Germantown. Had we tied the sales tax to the schools, MOE would require that every time we break a record in sales tax collections, we would then have to meet that funding level going forward (even if we hit a recession and collet fewer taxes). You can always go up but never down, it is a one way street with MOE.

The administrators who crafted the wording of the resolution understood this and thus worded the referendum accordingly. It allowed the new sales tax rate to fund our obligations without escalating due to economic ups and downs. This is fiscally smart because when sales tax revenues drop the only other source to pay that obligation is your property taxes. In a recession not only would you have the negative impact of a down economy, the city would be in a position to be forced to raise your property taxes to meet the MOE requirements.

This is why the fiscal policy of tying school funding to a variable revenue source is dangerous. That policy reduces the predictability of property tax rates for people on fixed incomes. One year you are fine and the next we have a tax hike to offset sales tax shortages. 

See the CA article below to read how Aldermen Barzizza and Massey raised the same issues last year…

Despite public view, sales tax hike was never intended solely for suburban school systems

Bonus – Why Sales Tax vs. Property?

Sales tax is a burden shared by everyone purchasing goods in Germantown. It allowed the City to meet the revenue generation needs with out over burdening home owners. It spread that revenue generation across the broader community. You come from out of town and spend money in Germantown? You help fund our schools. And we thank you!

Reference

(1)   Maintenance of Effort: The Basics 

Civics 101: GMSD, “City Hall” and non-profits.

I saw the following post recently, and wanted to respond with more questions:IMG_8270

My questions:

1.  Why would an Alderman want to get information about Germantown schools (specifically about teachers who have resigned, as shown in a follow up comment)?

2. Why would this Alderman, an elected City Hall official, think he could get this information from City Hall?

But I couldn’t pose these questions in response because I’m . . . you guessed it . .. well, not technically “blocked,” but “muted” on this public page, meaning I can see posts but cannot comment on them. We started this blog to give a voice to those who are blocked (and muted), so I’m going to use that voice.

Does Alderman Massey know that City Hall and GMSD are separate entities? That other than approving a budget, City Hall has no oversight over GMSD?

This prompted me to look back at something I recalled from a Board of Mayor and Alderman (“BMA”) meeting earlier this year.

On February 12, 2018,  a $100,000 allocation to the Germantown Education Foundation (a separate, private 501(c)(3) charitable organization), was up for a vote by the BMA. Alderman Massey did not want to allocate the money to GEF and instead suggested that it would be better just to allocate it directly to the schools, cutting out the “middleman.” Putting aside several other problems with this (such as that the allocation to GEF helps support an organization that is very good at fundraising and every dollar allocated to GEF likely results in many more dollars raised for our schools),  it quickly became apparent that Alderman Massey did not understand the concept of Maintenance of Effort.  It is not unreasonable for an ordinary citizen to not understand this concept, but he is an elected official and this concept has serious implications for the city’s finances.  In short,  every operational dollar allocated directly from the city to the school system is considered Maintenance of Effort and must be added to all future operational fund allocations to the school system. So, an allocation of $100,000 to the school system in 2018 results in mandated additional allocations of $100,000 in 2019, 2020, and so on. This was mentioned a few times but did not seem to sink in.

In that same meeting, Alderman (and now Mayoral Candidate) John Barzizza suggested that it would be prudent to have the Germantown Education Commission* have direct oversight over GEF.  The city attorney pointed out that GEF is an independent Non-Profit, and as such, is required to provide financial information to the public.  Alderman Barzizza again suggested having a city Commission provide direct oversight over an independent 501(c)(3) entity.  That would be like saying the city should have it’s wellness commission oversee the Board of Directors of St. Jude or LeBonheur if it is going to donate any funds to those charities.

Does Alderman Massey think that GMSD is governed by City Hall?  That it is within his role as city Alderman to request and obtain personnel records from GMSD?  That City Hall maintains such records for a wholly separate government entity (GMSD)?  That even if there were something untoward found in such records, it would be the role of the BMA to address it as opposed to the GMSD Superintendent or School Board?

Does Alderman Barzizza think that GEF, a private charitable organization, is a city agency?  Does he think the city can exercise direct oversight over the board of an independent Non-Profit charitable organization?

*full disclosure:  I am a member of the Germantown Education Commission, which is an advisory commission, having no oversight over any school, school district, or independent education non-profit.