Commissioners oppose granting school board taxing authority

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The prospect of Marshall County's Board of Education transforming itself into a panel over a special school district with taxing authority was unanimously opposed by county commissioners at their monthly meeting Monday night.

While there's no publicized desire by local school board members to have authority to set a separate property tax to fund education, there are companion bills in the state House and Senate that would allow any "local education agency" to convert to a "special school district."

Doing so would bypass the oversight county commissioners have had over the school system's budget, the largest part of the county's annual revenue and spending plan.

There are some special school districts in Tennessee. The Franklin Special School District imposes a property tax in a large part of that municipality where the city school system educates approximately 3,750 students in grades K-8. Thereafter, the children go to the Williamson County system for grades 9-12.

The Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen does not fund the city school system. However, the Murfreesboro City Council in nearby Rutherford County, does appropriate money to Murfreesboro City Schools which is not supported by a second property tax in Murfreesboro.

Marshall County commissioners went on record as opposing legislation currently under consideration in the state Legislature.

If passed, House Bill 3590 and Senate Bill 2938 would modify the law to allow any "local education agency" to convert to a "special school district." This means that the school district would be in charge of its own money: setting a rate and collecting taxes to finance education, issuing debt, and receiving Better Education Program funds from the state.

The County Commission received a resolution from its Education Committee to say the commissioners are against the bills.

"We're proposing a resolution in opposition," Commissioner Larry McKnight said when his education committee met Monday night before the commission meeting.

"It may be something the (school) board wants to do," Rocky Bowden said. "I think we should get some input from them - hear what they have to say."

"I'm here to cast a vote for my district, not for what people on the school board want," Commissioner Billy Spivey said. "It's not a good idea. It's passing the buck."

Bowden replied, "Most states do it that way. The cost is the same to the taxpayer regardless of what pot it comes out of. I don't think our board would want to do it."

"I don't like it," Commissioner Don Ledford, the fourth member of the education committee, said.

The committee voted 3-1 to recommend the resolution to the County Commission. Bowden cast the lone 'no' vote.

McKnight later explained that he thought Bowden had voted that way because he wanted input from the school board, not because he was opposed to the resolution.