Thu04242014

Greater Metro

<br />End in sight for school consolidation’s rocky road

Memphis and Shelby County school boards that have been bumping heads over the merger of city and county schools will give way to one governing body come October 1.  Memphis and Shelby County school boards that have been bumping heads over the merger of city and county schools will give way to one governing body come October 1.

The decision to move forward in unison reflects a settlement that U.S. District Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays put his stamp of approval on Wednesday. From it pops out a 23-member board that will be a combination of old and new.

The old will be the nine current members of the Memphis City Schools board and the seven board members now governing Shelby County Schools. The new will be seven County Commission appointees (from seven newly designated districts), who will join in governing the new combined system for the next two years.

All of this – and more – stem from mediation overseen by Mays in the wake of his Aug. 8 ruling, which, among things, declared that proper legal steps had been taken for the surrendering of the City Schools charter and the merger of City and County schools for the 2013-14 school year. In that ruling, Mays also held that the Shelby County Schools board could not govern the combined system because Memphis residents did not have proportional legal representation.

Judge Mays commended each side for the “care and patience” employed in moving the process along. The three-day mediation ended on an agreeable note, according to city and county officials.

On Wednesday afternoon, a unified front was the order of the day during a news conference at the Vasco A. Smith County Administration Building downtown.

“This is still a tentative agreement, but it provides a good, solid foundation,” said Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. in a statement later to the Tri-State Defender. “It gives us a clear structure for how to proceed and gives clear responsibilities to all the parties involved.”

The board that moves in to govern on Oct. 1 would have 14 Memphis representatives and 9 from the suburbs.

Other key details include:

• In August 2012, an election will be held for the seven new district seats filled by County Commission appointees.

• The 16 MCS and SCS board members would drop off by Sept. 2013. At that juncture, the County Commission could increase the size of the board to 13.

• The City Council, County Commission, MCS board and SCS board all must Ok the settlement before the deal is officially done.

Hostilities erupted in late January when Memphis City Schools board member Martavius Jones, along with board member Tomeka Hart, proposed surrendering the City Schools charter. He called it a defensive move, saying changes in the makeup of the state legislature had created the very real possibility of Shelby County having a special school district and all of the property values outside of the city of Memphis becoming off limits.

The defiance of Shelby County School officials and some city board members fed into a tug of war that generally pitted city dwellers and county residents against each other. In a subsequent referendum, the city’s constituents overwhelmingly supported charter surrender.

On Wednesday, Jones expressed his thought that a model education system could emerge if the citizens of the entire county work collectively.

 Also on Wednesday, City Schools board commissioner the Rev. Dr. Kenneth T. Whalum Jr., one of the fiercest opponents of charter surrender, reflected on how the issue has played out.

This is what he had to say:

• “In terms of the actual consolidation itself, this sounds very much like the provisions envisioned by the MCS charter that we surrendered.  The mediated settlement is just a much more expensive and expansive way of achieving the merger.”

• “The work of the new 23-member SCS appears to be daunting in its scope and intensity, especially with both systems maintaining their operational autonomy in the meantime. I wonder who has time for all the meetings that will be required.”

• “Interestingly, there is no mention of the probability of outlying suburbs creating their own schools, which I would absolutely not blame them for doing in this climate of instability. The end result may be that Memphis merges with itself, with regard to the possible resulting student population.”

• “At least we’ll have corporal punishment back!”

• “Finally, now that the children of Memphis haven’t disappeared, I wonder when Mayor Wharton and Memphis City Council will pay the court-ordered $57 million. If I were a betting man, I’d bet that we won’t receive it, and the ‘Dead Beat Dad Syndrome’ will prevail a while longer.”

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