Tuition Discussion Tabled

During the work session on January 15, 2019, the Germantown Board of Education reviewed a presentation from the Superintendent Jason Manuel regarding the impact of requiring tuition in the school year 2019-20. The board discussed the many questions that have arisen and concluded that more study was needed. Therefore, the policy change was tabled.

Graphic of Current Transfer Students by School

It was revealed during discussion that the policy change was not brought by the superintendent but by Chairman Rebecca Luter at the request of Board Member Amy Eoff.

Concerns about the timing and pending open enrollment as well as the recruitment for students in the academies lead to the agreement to delay until September when they can review new enrollment numbers based on population at the new school, Forest Hill Elementary and new transfer policy. The analysis presented at this meeting by Jason Manuel was by his own admission incomplete and lacked a full understanding of programmatic impacts.

Lines 11 through 16 as seen in the graphic below were removed from the proposed changes and it was noted that returns the policy to the original wording.

GMSD Tuition: Good Idea?

I have seen a lot of comments along the lines of “Pay your fair share” in the brief but intense discussion about the proposal to charge tuition for GMSD. Sounds like a reasonable argument to me. But when you go beyond the surface of that statement it quickly gets a lot more complicated. That is why I am asking for the Board of Education to postpone a vote on this subject until we see a solid analysis of the potential impact.

Let me show you where my questions arise. Contrary to popular belief, the City of Germantown does not provide the majority of funding for the district. In the FY19 budget, only 4.2% of GMSD’s revenues were projected to be from the City of Germantown. Nearly 90% of funding comes from the State and County sources. Did you know that those funding pools are based on student enrollment, to the tune of around $8,500 per student? Every transfer student into the district brings those funds with them.

First and foremost, GMSD is for the education of Germantown Students. Don’t confuse any of my discussions of school finance or transfers to be anything else. My concern is that we offer the best district for our community and to do that we need to make decisions that are financially responsible. We are talking about specific schools where we have some excess capacity. We should never allow transfer population to drive need for an additional facility.

The proposal I have seen is for tuition not to exceed $1,000 per family. Admittedly, I have not had time to do the level of research I would like in order to write about something like this, but given the vote is Tuesday I feel a need to share my concerns. If we charge $1,000 per student, more than 8 students have to sign up to pay that tuition to make up for the lost state and county funding of just one student leaving the system. In other words if more than 12% of transfers opt not to pay the fee and leave GMSD, the district loses money. If you charge a lower tuition fee that number just gets worse. At a $400 tuition level, only 5% can leave before the financial impact is negative.

This math looIMG_7495.jpgks break even at best to me and detrimental at worst. The upside potential is marginal and more analysis is needed to determine if it is worth the risk of losing the State and County revenues associated with these students. We potentially put programs like our Leadership, Fine Arts and Honors academies at risk. From what I am told there are over 200 transfer students in these programs at HHS. If the families of these students are unwilling or unable to pay tuition how will it impact these programs? The students in these academies are also high achieving and required to meet higher academic standards to transfer in.

Is this a good decision? I don’t know. We need more analysis on the financial and programmatic impacts of this proposal. Please join me in asking the board to hold off on approving this until we see a real analysis of all of the potential impacts of approving this proposal.

Additional thoughts on Financial Impacts:

For years I have professionally worked on costing and pricing. If you think back to those high school economics classes, you will remember conversations about fixed and variable costs. For the school district the fixed costs are buildings, administration, utilities and support functions that don’t vary materially based on student population.

The variable costs for the district are basically teachers salaries and other forms of direct student support. My quick analysis (like I said I would like more time to review this) shows that the district’s expenses are roughly 60/40 variable to fixed. The budgeted cost for “Regular Instruction” is $84k per teacher for salaries, wages and benefits. So, just ten transfer students cover the cost of a teacher and while class size varies based on grade, our lowest targeted optimal class size is 18 students for Kindergarten.

If 90% of our funding is tied to student enrollment and we know 60% of our cost is variable, that means each student who transfers in makes a positive contribution to the fixed costs of running our system. These are the funds that help make our academies and extra curricular programs available. Losing these students potentially shifts financial burden to the City of Germantown and your property taxes. If these are decisions we want to make as a community, then we just need to be sure we understand the impact before we cast a vote.

I am concerned that we don’t have the research to understand potential unintended consequences of this decision.

GMSD Board Update – December 18, 2018

The GMSD met on Tuesday December 18, 2018 with key items on the agenda being the swearing in of board members, transfer policy and election of a board Chair.

Rebecca Luter was elected Board Chairperson, Amy Eoff was elected Board Vice Chairperson and Angela Griffith was elected the Tennessee Legislative Network Representative. Here is a summary of how they voted.

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The meeting was a marathon, lasting nearly three hours. The majority of time was spent presenting an update on the Bullying Task Force and efforts the District has made to address the concerns of stakeholders. More on bullying below.

Two citizens addressed the Board during Citizens to Be Heard. One discussed concerns about the transfer policy and the other discussed the need for leadership in selecting the role of Board Chair. (Start CTBH – 2:15:10)

The board approved the purchase of HVAC equipment to support the replacement of the Riverdale Boiler. An additional quote will need approval for installation of the equipment.

The Board approved the Legislative agenda. The Board was deliberate to leave some flexibility in that agenda as laws proposed by the legislature my result in shifting priorities.

The Intra District transfer policy was discussed and approved on second reading. There was discussion around the impact on students with special needs. There were concerns specifically with capacity at Farmington. Jason Manuel presented a summary of potential impacts.  (Transfer Discussion 2:26:00 Approximately 25 minutes)

The election of Board Chair, Vice Chair and Legislative Network Representative.  

Bullying Continued…

The bullying update was presented at both the executive session and during the board meeting. Both presentations ran about 50 minutes however there were some interesting insight provided by Mr. Dan Haddow in the board meeting as he was returning from Nashville and only made it in for the last few minute of the Executive Session. Links to both are provided below. One take away was that there is a focus on whole child. If you have concerns about bullying, I highly encourage you to watch these presentations to see what efforts are being made by GMSD. Abigail Warren provides a good summary of efforts over at the Daily Memphis.  Germantown Board of Education expands anti bullying efforts to include mental health

Board Meeting Bullying Presentation: (Starts 1:24:34)

Executive Session Bullying Presentation: (Starts 10:51)

Personal Note:  Angela Griffith approached me after the meeting to discuss an error in one of my pre-election blogs. I incorrectly stated that she and Brian Curry shared the same campaign manager. I have corrected that blog and noted the correction on the bottom of that page as well. I strive to be factual and this was an honest mistake. I appreciate this respectful conversation. This is the type of conversation that moves our community forward from a contentious election cycle. Thank you Mrs. Griffith.

Better Cell Coverage Coming to Dogwood?

Tuesday ,December 11, 2018 the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) met to discuss three items. The first item, and probably most interesting to many of us that live in the area, was an appeal to allow a cell phone tower on GMSD property (the Dogwood Elementary campus). Below is the detailed description of the proposal from the agenda packet posted on the city’s web page.

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The BZA approved this request and the next step will be for this project to go before the Planning Commission for site plans. Below you can see all the steps that this project will have to clear prior to going to the BMA for final approval.

This is just one example of Germantown’s extensive review process and multiple opportunities for feedback for projects like this.

If you support or have concerns about this project be sure to engage your aldermen and attend one of these meetings. There was only one resident who spoke up tonight. Comments in the meeting indicated that there were three letters for and three letters against this project. After the Planning Commission, the Design Review Commission will review the proposal before forwarding it to the BMA.

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The documents supporting this meeting can be found by clicking here.

The two other items reviewed by the BZA were a project at Houston High School and a resident seeking an appeal for an additional driveway on a corner lot. All three items were approved by the Board.

You can watch the entire meeting below.

Election Night Reflections

It is election night, midnight on election night to be exact. We have been on the phone, texting and talking to friends trying to figure out what has happened. At this point, it looks like Mike Palazzolo is in the lead but the results are still too close to call in the mayoral race.

As for the alderman races, it looks like Scott Sanders and Mary Anne Gibson have won. School board looks like Betsy Landers will retain her seat and Angela Griffith will fill the seat vacated by Lisa Parker.

So what does this mean? It means that our community is divided. Even if the mayoral results swing, it can’t be assumed that either candidate was elected with mandate.It is incumbent on our next mayor to work to bring this community together. We as a community must work to have civil discussion about the issues we face. Our mayor and aldermen need to help lead that discussion. It is time to stop pointing fingers and playing blame games and time to work on solutions to problems facing our community.

Win or lose, thank the candidates that take the time and effort to run for office. It is a stress on them, their families and friends. This evening is one of highs and lows. For every party, there are friends and families supporting their candidates facing the disappointment of a loss. The sacrifice is real and the heart of our government. We may not all agree on the how we lead Germantown into the future, but we all agree that we want the best for this great city.

Thanks to all those who run, even if we may not always agree on the “how”.

Be always sure you are right, then go ahead!

I was recently listening to an audio book and the author cited one of his favorite quotes as being from Davy Crockett. Crockett, the famous Tennessean who served in Congress and lost his life in the battle at the Alamo was known for saying “Be always sure you are right, then go ahead!” I have heard that before but it really stuck with me this time.

We are in a political environment that is full of contradicting information and some flat out lies. It is incumbent on us as voters to wade through all this information and try to discern what is truth. We at the Germantown Voice are working together to lay out some of the key items we see as hot button issues either called out by candidates themselves or championed on social media.

First and foremost, we recommend watching the Germantown Chamber of Commerce Candidate Forum. At nearly two hours it is long but it is worth your time to be an informed voter. The program begins with the Alderman and then transitions to interviews with each of the Mayoral candidates. Be open minded and listen to both candidates.

Listening to Citizens – There is a narrative that says that certain candidates are not listening to citizens. Have you reached out to your officials directly?  You might find they are very responsive. Did you know that the long term plans you hear referenced (including Forward 2020 & 2030) are all citizen led? Those plans were not just a handful of people either: they included over 1,000 participants in task forces and public meetings. The commissions that approve initial concepts for projects are all citizen led. All these meetings are open to the public, many are available on YouTube though the Germantown Municipal Television page.

Development – In general, there is a perception that the city is “pushing” development. Let’s be clear – the city doesn’t solicit development. If you listen to this YouTube video taken from the public hearing on the rezoning of the Cordova Triangle, you can hear the property owner clearly state that developers are approaching them with projects. They continue to approach the land owners even with the moratorium in place. Development is happening because land owners and developers see value in Germantown.  Can you blame them? Look at the success of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Check out the lines at Rise and the new Apple store. So be careful when someone tells you the Mayor and Aldermen are pushing development. Be sure you understand where the demand comes from. The Commission, Mayor and Aldermen are all performing their roles as checks and balances to the system to be sure proposals meet zoning, codes and overall vision of the city. There is a lot to discuss about the value of being sure we grow the right way and we will add to that conversation.

Smart Growth – This concept is limited to very specific areas of the city. The intention is to maximize the property tax and sales tax generation for these targeted areas like the central business district (think Poplar and Germantown Rd) and the Western Gateway (think Poplar and Kirby). These areas are already commercial but, in many cases have 40+ year old retail space in need of updating. The intent is to make sure those updates help generate more tax revenue thus reducing the dependence on residential property tax. Did you know that the taxable property on the 9.7 acres of Travure will be valued well over $30m when done? You would have to develop nearly 100 homes on 1/4 acre lots valued at $500k to generate the same tax revenue. And my estimates of value are likely very low. The incomplete office building was assessed at $10m in FY18 and the hotel will be worth north of $15m when complete. There is a whole other parcel to be developed as well. That also doesn’t include any sales or hotel taxes generated there.

Apartments – We have all seen plenty on this topic. There are TV ads claiming that 1,200 apartments have been added to our “Fair City.” That is false any way you look at it. As of today, the only fully approved and under construction apartments are Thornwood with 276 units. Thornwood is the first new apartment complex in Germantown in nearly 20 years. You may see a map of developments around the city that cite other projects in the approval process but it is important to know the facts about each of these.

  • Watermark was voted down 4-1 by the BMA (284 Units). However, the developer is suing the city.
  • Viridian (310 units) is concept phase only and requires additional reviews with the planning commission and BMA approval. This project has not moved forward at all (despite what you may read in come social media groups) and will get tremendous scrutiny when it does.
  • Arthur Property (Saddle Creek 265 units) is approved in concept phase only.
  • Parc (371 Units) withdrawn by applicant, not under consideration.

Portables – The fact is that the new elementary school will address all of our capacity needs at the elementary level. Depending on transition plans with the new school, portables could be gone as early as next year. Any candidate that tells you they will do it faster should probably run for school board as they don’t have the authority to change zoning or enrollment plans that would be necessary to facilitate that change. The city has been working with the GMSD Board of Education to address this problem since day one. Twenty-five portables were removed at Riverdale and the remainder will be gone from Farmington and Dogwood within the year.

Taxes – Claims of 45% increases over the last 4 years are just wrong and frankly out of context. By their math your tax rates are actual down since 1990 when the rate was $2.16. Do you pay more taxes than you did in 1990?Of course you do, that is why context matters.

Read our series on Tax Rate Truth  (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)for full details about what the increase really is and the story around why your taxes have gone up. In the last 4 years, we have added a brand new school system, helped address deferred maintenance of the all schools ($26M reduced to $11M), added a police district, seen our fire department upgraded to ISO Class One and invested in our parks and greenways. We get tremendous value for our dollars as our rates are less than half that of Memphis and our services and amenities the best in the region.

“Hold the Line on Taxes” – The annual budget process includes a 5-year projection that helps anticipate the timing of potential tax rate increases. This year the City Administrator projected we should get at 5 more years out of our current rate meaning that whomever is mayor will likely not have to raise taxes in the next term. Listen to it here.

Growth of City Staff – Did you know that in 2000 the city had 400 full time employees? In FY19, we now have 406, including 40 additional first responders. This illustrates the gains in efficiency in running city operations while shifting resources to important areas like fire and police.

Streetscape – You may have seen plans float around for Streetscape work on Exeter. This like many other issues is intended to be a wedge issue that divides the community. This issue was so misrepresented that the city had to issue a statement to clarify the status of the streetscape project. Read the truth here, straight from the city of Germantown.  This project is not actively being worked and will require significant community input before anything is approved.

Carrefour – This property was built in 1973 and has had two major remodels over the years. The developer is seeking to rework this property in three phases. If you listen to the candidate forums it appears that nearly everyone agrees that that property needs to be remodeled, even John Barzizza doesn’t seem against the idea of apartments being included as part of this project. He clearly points out that this is different than a stand-alone complex off Winchester (Listen Here). By the way, there are no fully approved projects off Winchester despite his statement.

Cell Phone Coverage – This is another attempt to create a wedge issue. Did you know the laws regarding cell towers in Germantown have been changed already? Did you know the city does not own cell towers? The carriers and their partners own them. The City has approved a new tower on the Wolf River Greenline, another at Madonna Learning Center on Poplar, added cell boosters to the schools and increased the allowable height of towers, all to improve coverage in Germantown. Now the carriers need to make their investments, or would you like your tax dollars to subsidize their profits?

Blogs – Like the Germantown Voice, Shining a Light is an opinion blog. It presents some factual information that supports a point of view. Our blog does the same. We try to offer perspective to the community. We don’t all have time to watch BMA meetings or attend commissions, but wouldn’t it be great if we did? Read a diverse perspective but keep in mind that stories can pick and choose what they include. That is why we recommend listening to the Candidate Forum above. You can hear directly from the candidates, side by side answering the same questions.

Social Media Leadership – Is your expectation that elected officials monitor social media and seek out to engage in every post? That would literally be a full-time job. Yes, major issues on social media do get the attention of your officials but usually because someone contacts them directly to start the discussion. Leading via social media is one step away from mob rule as often times the loudest voices may not represent the majority.

Germantown Bulletin Board – Did you know that the group that administers this Board, which reaches 13,000 people, is made up of open supporters of John Barzizza’s “Team?” One admin is also campaign manager for a school board candidate (Brian Curry), and is campaign manager or has done campaign work for two alderman candidates (Scott Sanders and Jeff Brown) and Mayoral candidate John Barzizza? To our knowledge there is no political diversity among this group. That matters because they approve all the new posts and moderate discussion. Originally political discussion was not permitted on that forum, now it doesn’t take long for any topic to turn political. Just something to keep in mind when reading posts in that group.

We will close with this final and appropriate quote from Davy Crockett: “I am at liberty to vote as my conscience and judgment dictates to be right.”

 

Correction 12/18/18: A previous version of this article stated that Brian Curry and Angela Griffith employed the same campaign manager.  This evening Mrs. Griffith informed me that she did not use the same campaign manager referred to above.  Apologies to Mrs. Griffith for the misunderstanding.  The mistake stems from the fact that her financial disclosures indicate she purchased her campaign sings through Mr. Curry’s campaign manager.

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.