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VOL. 127 | NO. 53 | Friday, March 16, 2012

Schools Merger Delay to be Discussed

By Bill Dries

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The schools consolidation planning commission will at least talk about the idea of putting off the merger of Shelby County’s two school systems for another year.

Countywide school board member David Pickler, who is also part of the planning commission, proposed the delay during a meeting of the group’s executive committee Thursday, March 15.

But the delay didn’t come up at Thursday’s meeting of the full commission. It will be discussed at the Thursday, March 22, meeting.

The schools merger is scheduled to start with the 2013-2014 school year under terms of a federal court order and settlement of a lawsuit over schools consolidation.

Any change in the current merger date set by Memphis Federal Court Judge Hardy Mays would have to be approved by Mays.

The timeline to meet the merger date requires the planning commission to decide the structure of the new school system and how it would operate, then present that plan by August to the countywide school board and state education officials for their approval.

On a parallel course with the schools merger effort is a move by most of the suburban towns and cities to form their own municipal school districts, which would also open with the 2013-2014 school year.

Several of the cities have scheduled May 10 referendums on the general question of forming municipal school districts. Those would be followed by an Aug. 2 referendum to raise the local option sales tax rate by a half-cent to provide the minimum local funding required for such school districts under state law.

Some planning commissioners tried unsuccessfully to talk the suburban leaders into at least postponing the votes to the Aug. 2 ballot to give the commission time to present its plan, which should be completed in draft form by May or June.

The delay would have positioned the planning commission blueprint as something for suburban citizens to consider before making their decision on municipal school districts.

A delay of a year in the merger would almost certainly affect the start date for municipal school districts. Those districts can’t open until the merger, under terms of the Norris-Todd state law that set the pre-court ruling terms for a schools merger.

Mays upheld the law in his ruling and did not address issues of the formation of the municipal schools district, saying since none had been formed at the time of his ruling, it was not an issue before the court.

The suburban leaders have interpreted the law to mean they can begin moving toward municipal school districts immediately as long as the date the school systems open is the same date the merged schools open for class.

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