BMA in Brief (Board Retreat) – February 23, 2019

To help you stay informed we will do our best to provide high level summaries for the bi-monthly Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) meetings. These summaries will be fact based with a focus on key items covered in the meetings and summaries of the votes taken. Where needed we will cover important discussions individually.

The BMA meet for a retreat session in the Economic and Community Development building on Saturday, February 23. No votes were taken and the meeting was not streamed via the usual methods. The meeting ran the full four hours.

Water Tower Discussion – Public Works Director Bo Mills and Assistant Director Andy Sanders gave a presentation about the need for an additional water tower. The discussion centered around the lack of a back up for the current water tower. Several risks associated with the lack of a back up tower included lack of fire support, air in the water mains causing damage to city and residential plumbing, and health risk associated with air bringing bacteria into the system. Sites were discussed including the new school and Forest Hill Irene south of Winchester. Alternatives were also discussed including an underground pumping system. We will write a separate blog post covering the details of this topic.

Sales Tax Issues – Discussion revolved around the state’s allocation of sales tax revenues. Issues were raised about the allocation of taxes collected via internet sales. The Tennessee Municipal League, a group of municipalities that advocate together at the state level, has submitted legislation to address the concerns of cities like Germantown. Germantown actually worked on similar legislation in prior years but lacked broader support across the state to see it approved. This will be a key item in the city’s legislative agenda in Nashville this year.

Legal Update – This was a closed door session for city officials only. The media and community members were required to step out of the room and remove their cameras.

Germantown Country Club – Parks and Recreation Director Pam Beasley gave a summary of the discussion held by the team that pulled together the Parks Master Plan. They met a couple of weeks ago to discuss the desire of the community to purchase the land and potential uses for the land. The group recommended purchase of the land however, potential uses would be decided after the purchase. The city has ordered an appraisal of the land and plans to respond to an RFP (Request for Proposal or Bid process) from the trustee of the land. This process will happen quickly over the next month or two. The city’s capacity to issue debt to purchase this land was also discussed. The Parks and Recreation Commission and Financial Advisory Commission will meet to address concerns in the coming weeks.

CIP & School Projects – The city has requested departments provide their proposed projects for the FY20 budget. There are 42 projects that have been submitted as part of this process and they will be prioritized in coming budget discussion. There is a work session scheduled for CIP (Capital Improvement Program) on March 27. There are several projects on the CIP list that will be dependent on prioritization by the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization). The MPO is the local government organization that prioritizes Federal funds for municipal project.  As we reported earlier the city has made its list of requests for State and Federal funding and should receive the approved list in late May or June. The initial FY20 request for school projects total $7.2M including an expansion to Houston Middle School. The cost for the expansion at HMS were originally estimated to be $5M but need to be updated as construction costs have increased since the project was first put on the 5 year CIP plan. The city is also funding $200K per year for the next 5 years for the Houston High Field House. Other GMSD requests for FY20 include another $500K for security upgrades ($500K was spent in FY19) and $1.5M for boiler upgrades to Riverdale. To facilitate alignment Jason Huisman, the Assistant City Administrator, sits on the facilities committee for GMSD. The city is working with GMSD to build out their 5 year CIP needs and make sure the budget includes their requests.

Rules of Engagement – The only discussion on this topic was the mention of an orientation session with the new Parliamentarian, which will be on Monday before the BMA meeting.

Moratorium Update – This update was brief as it began with about 20 minutes left in the four hour session. No results were presented. Staff discussed that the focus had been on four major areas: Schools, Public Safety, Fire/EMS and Infrastructure/Transportation Systems. The city has gathered a lot of data and is working to process it into impact by district, not just an all up city level. Legal Counsel advised the Aldermen that any actions taken should be in line with or supported by the data. The Attorney cited that courts recently held that Covington’s apartment moratorium violated the Fair Housing Act as it wasn’t supported by the type of analysis currently being done by Germantown. Staff stated that the goal is to present the results from the study in April or May.

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 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”.

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