Shelby county schools, suburbs race for calendar

On April 2, 2012, in News 2012, by Mark Norris

Complicated issues precede 2013 merger By Michael Kelley, Richard Locker, April 2, 2012 If not already, August 2013 soon will be marked on the calendars and embedded in the minds of nearly every educator, public official, parent, taxpayer and anyone else interested in public education in Shelby County. It’s the date that the merger […]

Complicated issues precede 2013 merger

By Michael Kelley, Richard Locker,
April 2, 2012

If not already, August 2013 soon will be marked on the calendars and embedded in the minds of nearly every educator, public official, parent, taxpayer and anyone else interested in public education in Shelby County.

It’s the date that the merger of Memphis and Shelby County schools will be completed. In the prelude, school officials and others are speedily working to consolidate the operations of the two systems, while suburban municipalities race to create their own school districts.


The Transition Planning Commission devoted an hour and a half last week to the issue that has been distracting it with regularity — the request by suburban officials for the TPC members to include separate municipal school districts in their plan for the merger.

The deadline for completion of the TPC plan — to be presented to the unified school board and state Department of Education for their approval — remains June 15.

The Administrative Organization and Governance Committee is one of the TPC’s eight committees with the most progress under its belt. It’s working now on issues such as central office design and policies on student assignment, enrollment and transfers, and hopes to have its plan ready for presentation to the TPC by April 12.

The Communications and Community Engagement Committee, the group responsible for a series of listening sessions all over the county in February and March, is now collecting input from parent organization leaders, students, teachers and other employee groups.

While the Assessment Committee is studying issues such as how students are distributed across the county, the Finance Committee is digging into details of district funding, the Human Resources/Personnel Committee is putting together a staffing plan and the Logistics Committee is looking for ways to make the new district more efficient than what taxpayers are supporting now.

Unified school board

Once the TPC completes its plan, it will hand it off to the 23-member unified school board, which has learned that having a huge board does not lighten the workload for individual members.

Each still has to deal with such issues as the budgets for both Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools, and proposals to close underpopulated schools in areas of the city.

Like the TPC, the board hasn’t had much choice but to react to the suburban municipal school initiative. In February, the board approved a resolution urging the General Assembly not to pass legislation interfering with its right to dispose of surplus property as it sees fit, contrasting its position with that of suburban officials whose consultants claim the buildings would be available to their clients at little or no cost.

The County Commission tackled the same issue with a proposal to enter into an agreement with the board that would keep the buildings in school board hands. A divided board failed to pass the measure.

State legislature

There will be movement this week on municipal school districts in both the House and Senate:

House Bill 1105 is set for a House floor vote tonight. When amended, HB 1105 will set out a framework for municipalities to call for referendums on whether their citizens want to create and fund new municipal school districts, and later elect school board members.

If passed by the legislature as expected, it goes into effect immediately after becoming law, clearing the way for referendums and school board elections this year. Referendums can happen as soon as 45 days after municipalities ask local election commissions to conduct them.

The Senate version of that bill, SB 1923, has not been scheduled for a Senate floor vote but likely will be this week, said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville.

Senate Bill 2908 is set for a Senate floor vote tonight and review in the House Education Committee on Tuesday. It would lift the state’s 14-year-old prohibition on the creation of new municipal school districts effective Jan. 1, 2013.

That bill, sponsored by Norris, would effectively allow the actual creation of new municipal school districts early next year.

It also removes the prohibition statewide. Last year’s Public Chapter 1, sponsored by Norris and Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, lifts the ban on new municipal and special school districts in Shelby County only effective in August 2013 or whenever the merger of the Memphis and Shelby County school districts becomes final.

In summary, the two bills operating in tandem allow the suburbs to move forward with voter referendums on new municipal school districts this year, elect school board members this year and then begin operations of new municipal school districts next year if their plans for the new districts are determined by the state education commissioner to comply with state law governing school systems.

Norris told The Commercial Appeal that it is important for the suburbs to hold referendums this year so that the Transition Planning Commission — created under state law to plan for the merger of Memphis and Shelby County schools — will know what size of a unified school system will exist.

“You can go through the analysis and over the hurdles that are required by state law before the ban is lifted because there may very well be some municipalities whose citizens do not want to raise taxes to do this. I know everyone assumes otherwise, but people ought to have the right to vote.”

Norris also said the legislation — an amendment to SB1923 — is a response to the state attorney general’s opinion two weeks ago that halted the suburban school referendums tentatively set for May 10.

“Folks look at it as merely their right to vote and why should they be denied the right to vote when the citizens of Memphis had the right to vote,” he said.

Shelby County suburbs

Germantown City Administrator Patrick Lawton acknowledged that although the possibility of a May 10 referendum has come and gone, the suburban cities are looking at other options for another chance to vote.

Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner said the town could put the referendum on the Aug. 2 ballot, then hold a special election for the school board

While the August primary is a possibility, Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown and Lakeland have the flexibility to hold special elections before then.

If the suburbs hold the referendums in August, the planned school board elections set for November would have to be pushed back, but still could be held before year’s end.

Lawton said he was working on an outline to see when and if the city could hold a special election and remain on schedule.