“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?

 

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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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.

Our Purpose

 

Just to be clear, this blog was created to give a voice to those silenced by the actions of Alderman Dean Massey when he blocked a large number of citizens from the ability to converse with him on community pages like the Germantown Bulletin Board. It appears Alderman Massey has been removed from that page for rules violations.

While that is unfortunate, in a recent post on Massey for Germantown regarding his removal, he states that this blog is an attempt to smear him. A review of our posts should be clear that we have only answered statements by Alderman Massey with facts, never have we smeared him.

Alderman Massey also repeats that anyone who responds to his statements with facts are puppets of the Germantown Administration. He accuses us of trying to control the narrative. Unfortunately, Alderman Massey is unable to see that by blocking us, HE is controlling the narrative.

In no way do we intend to smear him or any of his supporters. Our only purpose is to provide a forum to freely answer his statements.

As I have stated publicly before, I have no interest in Alderman Massey’s personal family pictures on his personal page. My problem with being blocked is only with being shut out of the conversation he holds with his constituents. Additionally, by blocking all dissent, he gives the appearance that no one disagrees with his positions which is misleading.

Perhaps he now understands just a bit how all of us feel, being removed from the community conversation, at least in that one social media venue.

 

Love and Light

Just a few days ago, on April 4, 2018, we commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His words are as relevant today as when he spoke them:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

I’ve been filled with anger too much lately, about a number of things, but in large part about the relentless attacks I see on social media against my city, its leaders and many citizens.

I find myself angry when I see people who have shared facts or opinions, or dared to say they like something that the majority in a given echo chamber hate, get instantly bombarded with ugly personal attacks.

I was very angry earlier today when Mr. Massey once again posted a citizen email that raised concerns and, in his forum where only those who support him are allowed to comment, made himself out to be a victim and cast aspersions on that citizen, city leaders and law enforcement. And then when one of his chief supporters and the administrator of his page actually referred to our city as “Nazi Germany” and “the Reich”. 😳. Really? I privately let this person know how deeply offensive that comparison is to me and others affected by the Holocaust, and in return I was called a “narcissist” and told to “go away.”

I could go on, and it is tempting, but I won’t, because Dr. King was right. Only love can combat hate. So here goes:

I love my city. Is it perfect? Of course not. But…

I love the parks.

I love the schools.

I love that my city signed a resolution and the nationwide Mayor’s Compact against hate and bigotry in the wake of the neo-Nazi/KKK rally in Charlottesville that turned deadly.

I love the new coffee place and my little knitting group that meets there.

I love the greenway, and seeing so many friendly faces out running and walking dogs on sunny days.

I love the trees. Yes. There are sooooo many trees, a fact which I am reminded of every pollen season.

I love our amazing police and fire departments, and the fact that I feel safe walking at night in my neighborhood.

I love our library.

I love GPAC, and GAC.

I’m not afraid to say that I actually like the look of the new developments at Thornwood and Travure, and places like them and Whole Foods, that are set close to the street (though I would be called unspeakable things for saying that in certain Facebook groups). I think they look modern and clean and better than a large parking lot.

I don’t love – but also don’t hate – new apartments. They’re apartments. They don’t really inspire love or hate -or fear- in me.

I don’t love that our elementary and middle schools are overcrowded; but I do love that so many people want to join us here and that our schools and city are addressing the growth.

I love that this is a place where I, someone who didn’t really know anyone here when I moved here, and who, as a politically left of center Jew who doesn’t particularly like barbecue, doesn’t really fit in, was welcomed when I started to get involved in my kids’ schools, and later as a volunteer on a city commission.

I love our Apple Store, and that they have a helpful young “genius” there who wears a kilt. ☺

I love that we are finally getting a Trader Joe’s – YAY.

I love my friends.

I refuse to let darkness and hate win in Germantown.

Let’s drive away the anger, darkness and hate with neighborliness, light and love.