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VOL. 127 | NO. 35 | Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Schools Discussion Hits Two Points

By Bill Dries

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The Arlington board of aldermen takes a final vote Tuesday, Feb. 21, on a May 10 referendum on a municipal school district.

GOLDSWORTHY

If the referendum ordinance is approved, it would be the first of several moves to the ballot by Shelby County’s suburban municipalities who are considering each creating their own school systems.

Meanwhile, the schools consolidation transition planning commission hears its first formal recommendation Thursday on what a countywide school system’s structure would look like.

And the recommendation Thursday from a committee chaired by countywide school board member David Pickler is expected to recommend a countywide school system divided into sub-districts.

“All of the models we are looking at are regionalized,” said transition planning commission chairwoman Barbara Prescott last week during a meeting with the suburban mayors. “They break the district down into parts that would keep feeder patterns in line.”

Feeder patterns are the school assignments that determine where an elementary school student next attends middle school and where a middle school student goes to high school.

They allow some stability for parents with the possibility of change if a school becomes overcrowded or new schools are built.

In their tentative school district plans, each of the suburban towns and cities have mapped out school districts that would also keep intact the existing feeder patterns for what is now the county school system outside the Memphis city limits. That means municipal school districts that include not only school-age children within a suburban town or city but students outside the town or city – some in other suburban towns and cities and even in the Memphis annexation reserve.

The difference is the municipal school district plans rely heavily on cooperative agreements to do that with other towns and cities as well as the countywide school board.

A countywide school system operating without coexisting with the municipal school districts would not need such agreements to keep the current feeder patterns.

“Maybe it gets to the point where maybe what you desire is your own system with your own elected school board,” Prescott told the six suburban mayors at last Thursday’s gathering. “Come 2013 we will have a plan that can serve your children and can serve them well. … We’re going to take into consideration all of your concerns. … We will address local control issues that allow some considerable amount of autonomy.”

But Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner defined the critical issue for the suburban leaders.

“How autonomous is that autonomy?” he asked in response to a question from Pickler about under what circumstances the mayors might consider joining a countywide school system or at least taking such a plan to their citizens for consideration as an alternative.

Joyner and the suburban mayors also said putting the municipal school districts question to voters on a May ballot is necessary to have enough time to put races for municipal school boards on the ballot Nov. 6. Those school boards would then hire their respective superintendents by the end of 2012 to be ready to start school operations in August 2013.

That timeline prompted Joyner and Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald, in particular, to say the time had probably passed for calling off the municipal school district efforts in their communities.

Germantown Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy said a move to public education is in line with what Germantown already does in the way of public infrastructure, public safety and public amenities.

“It seems as fundamental and as critical to the quality of life in our communities as any of those other facets,” she said. “We see a tremendous opportunity to make public education an integral part of our individual communities. … It’s not as if we want to run the schools from City Hall. We know that is the responsibility of the school boards.”

She also said the smaller cities have a certain “nimbleness” in getting things done that wouldn’t be possible with a single large countywide school system even if it was divided into sub-districts.

“You talk with the mayor at church and in the grocery store and at the gas station – wherever,” she said. “The ability of people to get to the people who make the decisions is, I think, very important.”

She also said smaller school systems in smaller cities would “eliminate the layers of bureaucracy – and I’m sorry that’s what they are. We know about bureaucracy.”

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