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VOL. 127 | NO. 121 | Thursday, June 21, 2012

‘Paradigm Shift’

Luttrell tells citizens to expect changes in way county’s children are educated

By Bill Dries

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As he nears the two-year mark as Shelby County mayor this September, Mark Luttrell said he continues to be confronted by the “urban and suburban divide.”

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell says he continues to be faced with the “urban and suburban divide” two years into his term in office.  

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)

Luttrell will be a pivotal and recurring figure in the issue that has defined the divide since just after he took office Sept. 1, 2010 – the consolidation of Shelby County’s two public school systems.

The week after the schools consolidation planning commission approved a first draft of a consolidation blueprint, Luttrell is telling citizens to prepare for a “paradigm shift.”

“You are going to see multiple ways of educating our children,” Luttrell told a group of 100 Tuesday, June 19, at the Memphis Rotary Club. “You are going to see everything from public schools to private schools to charter schools to achievement schools to municipal schools.”

Luttrell was a member of the schools consolidation planning commission and appointed several members to the 21-member group as county mayor. He was more than a vote on the body.

Luttrell counseled the group to accept and account for the possibility of suburban municipal school districts. That was as he urged the Tennessee Legislature not to further change the state law and allow the move to such school districts to begin before the group’s consolidation plan was accepted or settled on by the countywide school board.

There was constant but discreet contact by Luttrell and his office with other players in a political drama with multiple roles and a historic impact that is still unfolding.

If few people noticed, it is because Luttrell’s demeanor in 12 years as a countywide elected official, including two terms as Shelby County sheriff, has always been understated. That’s in a political culture where larger-than-life colorful personalities are both a formula for success and a cautionary tale.

But in an even conversational tone of voice at the University Club this week, Luttrell mixed the terms of that other political style with the more studied terms of a carefully considered role.

“You are going to see everything from public schools to private schools to charter schools to achievement schools to municipal schools.”

–Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell

“A progressive government is more than just a government that maintains,” he said. “If we just maintain. If we just pay our debt down. If we just live within our tax revenue, are we really the government our citizens deserve? I believe government should be a facilitator. It should be a catalyst.”

He also didn’t hesitate to say that whatever decisions the school board makes about the blueprint, the board will be working with his office during the budget season as county government becomes the sole local funding source of the consolidated school system.

“I’m going to make it very clear,” Luttrell said last week when the planning commission approved the first draft. “I hope they will look very seriously at the plan so (the county administration) can work closely with them when they submit their budget.”

This week, Luttrell told the Rotarians that the school system envisioned by the planning commission has a gap between existing revenues and the expenses of running a decentralized school system with multiple school models but standards for each school that include more advanced placement courses at all schools and an expansion of pre-kindergarten access.

He is not advocating a property tax increase to provide that revenue. And Luttrell said it’s not an option he would like to see.

“I hope not,” is how he put it before adding, “but if that’s what it takes to legitimately realize the level of our education achievement in Shelby County, I wouldn’t hesitate to offer that as a possibility. My advice, my guidance throughout the transition planning process has been let’s support all of those means of educating our children.

“If we are going to have municipal schools, which the law allows for, what can we do to help the municipalities educate the children,” Luttrell said as he talked of a school system that supports the formation of charter schools and other types of schools including the state-run Achievement School District.

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