By Bill Dries,
March 18, 2011

Shelby County Commissioners prepare to churn the roiling waters of the schools consolidation issue this week with adjustments to their maps for a countywide school board.

The commission meets Monday at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building, 160 N. Main St.

On the agenda is a new map for their plan to change the boundaries of the seven existing county school board districts to include the city of Memphis.

The seven-district plan is an alternate to another redistricting plan that includes 25 districts. The 25-district plan makes changes to the seven existing county school board districts that are not nearly as dramatic.

The commission approved the two plans in the event that a court rules it can draw lines for a countywide school board but cannot add positions in creating the new school board.

The commission plan to appoint any kind of new countywide school board at a special March 28 meeting is being contested by Shelby County Schools in a pending federal lawsuit.

State Senate GOP leader Mark Norris of Collierville, a former Shelby County Commission chairman, is among critics of the move who contend the commission is reading state law incorrectly.

“If they want to change that, I would recommend they take that to the people for a referendum vote,” Norris said.

Commissioner Mike Ritz proposed the new map for the seven-district alternative, saying he didn’t want districts that mixed Memphis territory with the county outside Memphis or the six suburban municipalities.

His amendment creates two county districts outside Memphis. Each of the seven districts has a population between 129,281 and 131,115. None are beyond the 10 percent deviation either way considered the legal test for the validity of districts that aim for a population of 130,000 each.

The deadline for those hoping to be appointed is Tuesday.

The three county commissioners representing the area including the six suburban municipalities – Terry Roland, Wyatt Bunker and Chris Thomas – have said they intend to protest the action by not participating in the appointment process.

Through Thursday, 109 citizens had applied. They will be interviewed by commissioners at what is expected to be a daylong committee session Wednesday chaired by Commissioner Mike Carpenter.

“The fact that the vast majority of candidates have not sought political office in the past indicates to me that they are not vying to serve on the unified school board to accomplish political aspirations,” he said, “but desire to contribute their unique knowledge and life experience to benefit our community’s children.”

The commission’s busy week in pursuit of a countywide school board is the so-called “second track” to schools consolidation.

Meanwhile, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said after a preliminary meeting with the leaders of both school boards, he hopes he and they will be ready to nominate members to a planning commission in perhaps two weeks.

The 21-member planning commission is part of a separate process set in a state law passed after the March 8 schools referendum had been set. It establishes a two-and-a-half-year period for planning to a consolidation of the two school systems in August 2013.

Until the transition date, both elected school boards remain in place. That is the plan leaders of both school systems have said they intend to follow.

Luttrell said some citizens are confusing the two appointment processes and at least one citizen has sought to apply for the countywide school board and the planning commission.

Norris, who proposed the planning commission legislation that became law, urged the commission to join the planning commission effort and “quit wallowing in the past.”

“I encourage them to come on along with us, join arms and move forward,” he said. “They are wasting their time.”


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