Tuesday’s ‘listening session’ first of many
 
By Zack McMillin, CommercialAppeal.com
January 8, 2012

When members of Shelby County’s schools merger Transition Planning Commission meet with the public in Collierville on Tuesday night, it will be six days ahead of an important deadline for suburban residents interested in opting out of a consolidated Memphis-Shelby school district.

The TPC is calling Tuesday’s meeting at Collierville United Methodist Church the first of many “listening sessions” it plans to hold throughout the county. It comes ahead of the promised Jan. 16 delivery to Memphis’ six suburban cities of a study on the feasibility of establishing and running municipal school districts.

The TPC, created by state legislation last year aimed at guiding schools consolidation here, wants to begin making key decisions by late next month toward a goal of delivering its final plan for the county’s public education system by this summer.

Most TPC members have insisted they must focus on designing the best plan for merging Memphis City Schools with suburban Shelby County Schools by 2012-13, regardless of whether the suburban municipalities decide that breaking out smaller independent school systems would be worth the higher taxes and administrative challenges.

The public meetings are a vital part of that process.

“We’re saying we want to hear from the community, hear your thoughts, ideas and concerns — hear your voice before any decisions are made,” said Kenya Bradshaw, chairman of TPC’s community engagement committee and Tennessee executive director of the student-advocacy group Stand For Children.

The suburban state senator whose legislative changes opened up the possibility of municipal schools, State Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, told The Commercial Appeal editorial board Friday the onus is on the TPC to design a plan that wins over suburban residents.

“I’ve never seen a more talented group of people,” Norris said of the commission. But he added: “They need to start communicating to the community they are onto something and they may have a better idea than just a breakaway plan for municipal districts.”

At the commission’s final December meeting, philanthropist and mutual-fund manager Staley Cates expressed his desire for more “frantic” efforts at dispelling myths circulating about what might happen post-merger.

“Some of the biggest fears that all of us have heard can most quickly be defused right away,” Cates said, pointing to consensus on the TPC on things like maintaining stability for teachers and students and the legal requirements that teacher rights and benefits not be diminished.

TPC committee work is accelerating this month, and plans remain for weekly meetings of the full commission, every Thursday at the county’s Code Enforcement offices on Mullins Station Road at Shelby Farms.

— Zack McMillin: (901) 529-2564

Merger meetings

Following are a list of opportunities for public engagement with members of Shelby County’s schools merger Transition Planning Commission. Regular business meetings are usually held Thursdays at 4:30 p.m. at the Shelby County Code Enforcement offices, 6465 Mullins Station.

For more information on public forums, business meetings and the entire schedule of committee meetings, go to 1.usa.gov/TCsite or call (901) 222-2000.

Tuesday, 7 p.m.: Listening session with members at Collierville United Methodist Church, 454 W. Poplar.

Jan. 17: Various sessions at Memphis City Schools regional sites. Call (901) 416-7264.

Jan. 17: TPC chairwoman Barbara Prescott speaks to Collierville Rotary Club at Ridgeway Country Club, 11:45 a.m. 9800 Poplar.

Jan. 23: Panel discussion with TPC members, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.

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