Municipal school districts may be a good idea.
But what passes for a plan to launch such school systems is dangerously deficient and a disservice to the suburban voters who are being asked to embark down the road to such school districts in a set of referenda in May.
There are serious doubts that a municipal school district can be funded with a half-cent on the local sales tax rate or a 15-cent property tax hike.
And while many suburban parents favor a school system of buildings within their city or town borders for school age children living within those boundaries, that’s not what is being planned. Those behind the move to municipal school districts should be more upfront about that.
The goal is to create school districts that allow children in the county outside Memphis to continue to attend the schools they attend now. That means more than 600 Collierville high school age students would continue to attend Houston High School. And it means several hundred high school age Bartlett students would continue to attend Arlington High School.
Every one of the five municipal school district plans outlined in the Southern Educational Strategies LLC reports relies on cooperative agreements not only among the suburban towns and cities. They also rely on such agreements with the countywide school system. What happens if the web of agreements doesn’t fall into place?
Transition Planning Commission chairwoman Barbara Prescott is right to ask what will happen if a Germantown municipal school system has a surge in students who live within Germantown attending those public schools. Do the students in unincorporated Shelby County get pushed out?
Attendance zones change over time to reflect population shifts. In this case, such a shift would mean the consolidated countywide school system would be building schools next to those in a municipal school system.
What happens to county schools that are in unincorporated Shelby County?
Suburban mayors got some very good free legal advice from planning commission member Christine Richard, FedEx Corp. general counsel, who predicted several legal challenges to the municipal school districts. Richards also predicted a judge would be hard pressed to define a municipal school district as anything beyond a school system within the borders of a municipality.
The student numbers and the funding that follows those students clearly won’t produce the money necessary to float a municipal school district.
County residents fearful of a merger with Memphis City Schools have been vocal in their insistence that they would be willing to see their taxes go up to form a municipal school district.
But there comes a time when elected leaders have to show some leadership and tell the truth about what that means and stop being pushed by powerful local sentiment that they have helped to stoke with generalities and a shocking lack of detail.