By Brian Bloom
Bartlett track and cross country coach Steve Sullivan was somber in discussing the possibility of suburban schools not being able to educate their own.
“Where does the money go,” Sullivan asked rhetorically. “Nobody wants to tell us.”
The money Sullivan speaks about are funds raised on the back of local schools PTA’s, booster clubs or other school civic clubs and organizations. Schools such as Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown and Millington among others, have a virtual army of well-intentioned, hard-working parents and students who work their communities to provide band uniforms, sports uniforms, sheet music and more. Tens of thousands of dollars are raised annually throughout the Shelby School district markets. People and businesses give because they recognize the needs within their own neighborhoods.
Yet if forced consolidation becomes and law, many in the Memphis suburbs believe those funds and the items purchased with those funds, will be funneled to districts that don’t have the same support.
“We need hurdles,” Sullivan said. “We need them this year. But I don’t want to buy them if they just end up somewhere else.”
Bartlett’s not alone and neither is it just a suburban issue.
Municipal PTAs have reported they are holding onto their money until Judge Hardy Mays rules on the school consolidation issue.
“Anytime a donation is made it becomes the property of Shelby County Schools,” Bartlett High School principal Ken Demetriou said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Bartlett, Collierville or Houston, Shelby County can manipulate the money or any other assets anyway they choose.”
Demetriou recalled years ago $15,000 was removed from Bartlett’s funding to pay for a refrigerator elsewhere. “Outside of that one instance I don’t know if they’ve ever taken anything from Bartlett and set it up elsewhere… but it’s the taxpayer’s of Shelby County’s property and they can dictate where it goes.”
In Bartlett, like many schools across Tennessee it’s not property tax funding that’s at stake. Bartlett hosts athletic boosters, band boosters and the PTA. Each sport is responsible for raising their own funds beyond the coaching stipend provided by Shelby County. That means uniforms, equipment and anything extra must come from supporters.
Athletics aren’t the only fund-raising element either. The school’s Spanish Club, French Club, drama team are among more than a handful of school organizations seeking local support. Much of the funds may come in ticket sales to concerts or plays, discount coupon books, candles, magazines, the list is long.
Even larger donations are at stake.
A week ago brothers Tony and Craig Yarbrough donated a sound system, valued in excess of $10,000, to Bartlett High School to be installed at the stadium. The system is identical to the one at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis prior to that facilities upgrade.
“That was my concern when I was delivering the system,” 1970 graduate Craig Yarbrough said. “I want the system staying here. I don’t know the best way to do that… whether to lease it to the school for $1 a year for 50 years or what.”
In Millington, Beth Hale, the school’s athletic director and assistant principal, said she’s heard no concerns. Millington has received few outright gifts, according to Hale, but school groups do a number of fund raisers used to support immediate needs.
Bartlett Mayor Mark McDonald, a member of the Transition Planning Commission, said there had not been any conversation about what happens to property from the individual schools. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell agreed.
In the meantime suburban booster organizations can only wonder if the investment they made in their schools will stay home.
By Brian Bloom