Editorial: Closing in on a merger

On February 12, 2011, in News 2011, by Mark Norris

Whatever course is taken, there should be nothing to fear from a consolidation process that is fair to both sides.

Commercial Appeal
February 12, 2011

The Memphis City Council could not have been more assertive this week in its declaration that city and county schools should be consolidated through a local process not dictated by the state.

By a 10-0 vote, the council accepted the decision by the Memphis Board of Education to surrender its charter, theoretically setting the stage for a quick merger.

Schools debate. Search our databases. Memphis voters will have a chance to make a similar statement at the polls on March 8 when the question is asked: Should administration of City Schools be turned over to the county school district?

Still, those who are concerned about the direction of public education in Shelby County must also prepare for the possibility that legislation crafted by state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, which calls for a 2½-year delay, will emerge as the course local officials must follow.

If that’s the case, the overriding goal should be to produce the best public education system for all of the children of Shelby County. That means not assuming from the beginning that the ultimate goal will be to cash in a provision of the law that lifts the ban on new special school districts for Shelby County.

A merger of the two school districts will have little effect on individual schools, which for practical reasons would maintain their individuality.

The board of education will have representatives from urban and suburban districts who understand the needs of their neighborhood schools.

If a school has good parental involvement now, it will after consolidation. If it has a lot of advanced placement classes now, that doesn’t have to change.

Merging the systems will not disrupt school reform measures now in place in Memphis City Schools. A responsible school board will make sure that work continues, with help from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and federal Race to the Top funds.

Maintaining quality education also means starting with a transition planning commission that has a fair amount of Memphis participation. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Gov. Bill Haslam and others should use their appointments to achieve that end, perhaps including Memphis Mayor A C Wharton.

Councilman Jim Strickland is right: No one knows what the ultimate resolution will be. It could be tied up for awhile in court.

However the matter is decided, people of good will in Memphis as well as suburban areas should strive to trust each other and work together to keep good schools on track and improve the performance of those that are behind the curve.

The future of Shelby County depends on it.


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