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VOL. 127 | NO. 145 | Thursday, July 26, 2012

Committee to Disband as Board Considers Next Step

By Bill Dries

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The countywide school board’s ad hoc committee to review the schools consolidation plan is about to disband without acting on the plan sent to the board by the schools consolidation planning commission.

WILLIAMS

The school board will consider its next step at its voting meeting Tuesday, July 31.

The original goal was to have a plan approved by August – a year from the merger of the county’s two public school systems at the start of the 2013-2014 school year.

Board member Freda Williams, who chaired the ad hoc committee, told the board Tuesday, July 24, that the group is disbanding.

“Next week I will request an item be added to agenda to make a determination of next step as we have scrapped the plan previously approved,” Williams said, referring to a canceled special board meeting on the merger plan earlier this month that has now changed the timeline for board approval of a plan – whether it is amended or not. “It’s just kind of murky since we abandoned the initial approved plan. What we need to do as a board is determine our next step.”

Williams attended every planning commission session and was briefed by the planning commission as their proposal took shape. The idea behind the committee was that it would wade into the details of the plan and its more than 170 recommendations and recommend a course of action to the full 23-member board.

Williams said she is still awaiting a final vote by the planning commission. The planning commission set its final vote with the idea that it would respond to any changes the school board or Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman might recommend.

Last week, Huffman approved the part of the planning commission proposal that dealt with preserving teacher benefits and their status as employees in the move to a single school system. He also offered non-binding recommendations on other parts of the plan.

School board chairman Billy Orgel asked Williams to clarify that her committee was going out of business. And she confirmed it was.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Orgel said.

The item came at the end of board work session in which several items involved board debates about whether the body was making adequate progress toward the schools merger.

“This board has a golden opportunity, but it has to deal with some challenges,” said board member Sara Lewis. “We aren’t geeing and hawing together. … We’ve had more real dialogue tonight. And I won’t speculate why, I’ll tell you later.”

Lewis’ concern comes as the board is being asked by the staff of both schools to begin approving common sets of policies and standards, some that will take effect in the school year that begins next month.

“We’re going to have to get someone to help us do that,” Lewis said of the move to a merger. “Otherwise next year we’re going to be sitting here talking about the same thing with 35 days until the opening of schools.”

An item selling the old Memphis City Schools Southeast Area Office in South Memphis for $210,000 included a foray into the planning commission’s recommendation to close 21 schools in the merger.

Board member Jeff Warren questioned whether such closings would save the money the planning commission projects it would when the cost of providing 24-hour security to a closed building not in use is factored in.

Board member Martavius Jones agreed.

“If that cost is $500,000 … that’s only assuming that building stays vacant for one year,” Jones said. “I would ask that when we are reviewing that recommendation … that we keep in mind that can be an ongoing three-, four, five-year expense. It may be totally wiped out over a year’s time.”

“Why hasn’t the city taken steps to condemn those properties if they are in that bad a shape?” board member David Reaves countered.

The board also set for action next week the creation of a new 13-member ad hoc committee that would recommend procedures for selecting a single superintendent for the transition into the merger and the merger itself.

The board also tentatively increased the number of school board members on the ad hoc committee to seven members and will consider a Sept. 30 deadline to report its recommendations.

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