March 9, 2011

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – So what happens now? Memphians cast a resounding ‘yes’ vote for the merging of Memphis City and Shelby County Schools. People on both sides of the issue agree that this story is far from over.

Gov. Bill Haslam and Memphis and Shelby County school officials said Wednesday that plenty of work lies ahead after voters chose to dissolve the city schools system and hand over control to the county.

The vote to disband the larger city system and put the county in charge of 150,000 public school students ran 2-to-1 in favor when Tuesday’s referendum results were combined with those of the early voting period.

The Shelby County Election Commission posted unofficial returns that show the vote was 47,812 in favor and 23,612 opposed. The vote is expected to be certified within three weeks.

At a press conference Wednesday morning with five MCS Board members, Superintendent Kriner Cash and the school district’s attorney, it was stated that it’s “business as usual” for the next 2 ½ years as far as day-to-day operations are concerned for city schools. The timeframe for the consolidation process was crafted by state legislation introduced by Senator Mark Norris of Collierville and signed into state law just a few weeks prior to Tuesday’s referendum vote.

The Shelby County School Board held a press conference as well Wednesday morning, expressing that they will move forward as determined by state law.

“It’s our understanding according to the bill passed by Nashville and signed into law by our Governor that the 21 member transition committee will now kick into effect,” stated Shelby County Schools Superintendent John Aitken.

County School Board President David Pickler added, “The work of this committee is going to be monumental because you’re looking at the task of putting together a plan that will create the 16th largest school system in America.”

Pickler went on the stress that a federal lawsuit filed against the Memphis City School Board will be pursued aggressively, stating “We feel very strongly about the arguments that were placed in that lawsuit, and we feel very strongly that the constitutional rights of the children of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools have been compromised by the actions of the city school board.”

Haslam said in a statement Wednesday that it’s time for city and county leaders to come together to develop a plan to create a unified school district.

“There are a number of issues to be considered, but I believe the people of Memphis and Shelby County will get the job done,” Haslam said.

Speaking with reporters Wednesday, Haslam said the state Department of Education is ready to help in any way it can.

While there seem to be more questions than answers moving forward, one pressing issue is funding. MCS is still seeking a $57 million back payment from the city, and funding for the transitional process has yet to be determined.


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