By Jane Roberts,
February 2, 2012

David Pickler works his day job from his laptop during many Shelby County School board meetings, giving the impression he is either bored or disinterested in the future of the unified district.

Today, the more attentive Pickler will step back in the ring when he tells a Transition Planning Commission committee it’s foolhardy to ignore the wishes of Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris.

“I am going to ask the committee whether they wish to pursue the track of a fully merged district with 150,000 students or whether we want to consider an alternative,” Pickler said.

The meeting is at 3 p.m. at the Construction Code Enforcement offices, 6465 Mullins Station Road.

To Pickler and some other members of the TPC’s Administrative Organization and Governance committee, it makes no sense to focus solely on a unified district while the suburbs are setting referendum dates for their own school systems.

“My hope it that the committee is open to a true dialogue about options for administrative governance,” said Keith McDonald, committee member and mayor of Bartlett.

“That is what we are going to talk about tomorrow.”

Pickler and Martavius Jones co-chair the committee. Other members are: Joyce Avery, Staley Cates, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, TPC chairwoman Barbara Prescott, SCS Supt. John Aitken, MCS Supt. Kriner Cash and MCS chief of staff, John Barker.

Norris roiled the water last week when he said he was giving the TPC and school board time to meet with the municipal mayors and resolve how suburban school buildings would be divvied up.

He made it clear he expected progress in 30 days or he would begin intervening himself from Nashville.

Because Norris was also the primary author of Norris-Todd bill that enabled the TPC and its work, Pickler says it is important to honor Norris’ intent.

“I do think this legislative intent should be given a certain amount of consideration as we move forward in this process,” he said.

Jones says the TPC does not have authority over the municipal districts as Judge Hardy Mays’ ruling currently stands because “the TPC has taken the position that it does not exist after August 2013.

“Municipal or special districts cannot exist before then. Therefore, municipal districts are not under the purview of TPC, as directed by Norris-Todd,” Jones said.

Mike Wissman, mayor of Arlington and a member of the 23-member unified school district, doesn’t understand why any obstacle should exist to talking about how municipal districts might be part of the whole district.

“Everyone would at least have an understanding of others’ wishes. The TPC deadline is so tight, it should have contingency plans if the municipalities do move forward with multiple districts.”

If the majority of the committee does not agree that municipal districts should be part the structure, Pickler hopes the TPC will consider a “minority report” representing the dissenting view.

“All I am saying is I am going to bring this topic before the committee. I do not believe it to be prudent for committee to ignore a request of the Senate Majority Leader,” he said.

The governance committee is to make a recommendation this month on what the high-level overview administrative structure of the merged district will look like.

Several scenarios are possible, including that the superintendents of the municipal districts would report to a unified district chancellor.

Last week, Pickler asked the committee to consider hearing a report from Southern Educational Strategies, the consulting group that did feasibility studies for each of the six suburbs considering starting their own districts.

He says the committee needs to have “an understanding of the research” and the positions the suburbs may be taking.

Pickler will speak to the committee today by conference call from the National School Board Association board meeting in Washington. He is the organization’s president-elect.

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