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VOL. 127 | NO. 38 | Friday, February 24, 2012

Schools Planning Group Hears Specifics of School Structure Proposal

By Bill Dries

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The group drafting the blueprint for the structure of a consolidated countywide public school system got several dozen PowerPoint slides and a briefing Thursday, Feb. 23, on the idea of a two-track school system that includes a “path to autonomy.”

Between now and the transition planning commission’s next meeting in a week, those in the group of 21 will look over the specifics including generally similar models in other school systems before a possible vote at the commission’s March 1 meeting.

The decision would be the first toward a consolidated school system structure. With the issue decided, the planning commission would begin taking other steps toward a goal of sending a completed plan for a consolidated school system to the countywide school board and state education officials for approval in August. The two school systems are scheduled to merge based on that plan a year later, at the start of the 2013-2014 school year.

Meanwhile, leaders of Shelby County’s six suburban towns and cities continue to move toward May referenda on creating separate municipal school systems.

Arlington’s board of aldermen made the town the first of the six to give final approval to a May 10 referendum this week.

Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald, a member of the schools planning commission, said his city’s push for municipal school districts continues at least for now.

“Plan A for Bartlett is still independent municipal school districts. Plan B would be something like the path to autonomy – something similar to that, whether it’s a charter school system or something else,” he said. “Our citizens have made it very clear they want and expect the referendum to create their own independent school system.”

The planning commission approved on a voice vote what amounts to a statement of specific education goals for the countywide school system to come.

The vote came after considerable debate Thursday over a survey of members of the commission ranking priorities like increased parental involvement. The survey is not scientific. But some on the planning commission questioned whether all of the goals are tasks the new school system should undertake instead of sharing those pursuits with others.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell urged the group not to get bogged down in the discussion of goals for a countywide school system that “is not going to solve the problems of consolidating two school systems.”

“We’re pouring the concrete, not curing it,” planning commissioner Tommy Hart added as the group moved to the questions of structure.

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