Huffman Approves Schools Merger Plan

By Bill Dries

Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman has formally signed off on the part of the local schools consolidation plan that required state approval. And he has said the state is not likely to provide additional post merger funding.

In a letter to the schools consolidation planning commission dated Monday, July 16, and released Friday, Huffman said the plan meets requirements in state law that such a schools merger continue existing rights and privileges of teachers in each system.

“My review of the transition plan finds no evidence that such impairment, interruption or diminution of the rights and privileges of teachers will take place if the recommendations outlined in the plan are ultimately implemented,” Huffman wrote. “Specifically, the legal assurances section of the plan adequately addresses plans for preserving the aforementioned rights of teachers.”

That is the specific finding on a specific part of the plan that state law required Huffman to evaluate and pass judgment on.

The plan is still awaiting approval from the countywide school board in advance of the August 2013 merger date.

Huffman also offered comments on the merger plan beyond his legal role, praising the planning commission “on your ability to transcend politics and, defying expectations, create a plan approved unanimously by your members.”

He specifically said the plans basic approach of the school district as a platform for different kinds of schools is “in the best interest of students and parents.”

But he said the plan needs more work on “the revenue side of the merger,” and cautioned the group against expecting additional state funding to close the gap between the expenses of the merged school system and the local, state and federal revenue flowing to that system.

“Realistically, the state is unlikely to provide earmarked support for the merger,” Huffman wrote. “State education resources are scarce, needs across the state are large, and the merger is the end result of local action rather than state mandate.”