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VOL. 127 | NO. 99 | Monday, May 21, 2012

Planning Commission Still Working Out Details

By Bill Dries

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The time is drawing near for the schools consolidation planning commission. “I’m not going to tell you what I compared this to,” commission chairwoman Barbara Prescott said last week. “But it’s been almost nine months.”

JONES

Recommendations for the look of the new countywide school system cleared another set of hurdles Thursday, May 17. But the estimates of the cost of the different parts of the school system to debut in August 2013 are still to come in several weeks.

LUTTRELL

All of that is ahead of a scheduled June 14 vote on the entire draft plan. A final vote on the work would follow public comment and input sessions.

“I wonder if we’re wasting our time by not talking about the financial side,” Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said at one point last week as the group’s discussion ventured into a price tag for certain elements of the plan.

“We’re trying to get at what ought to be done,” said planning commissioner Daniel Kiel.

“We may have to sacrifice something,” said planning commissioner and countywide school board member Martavius Jones, who also emphasized the setting of priorities that will be the last leg of the commission’s drive to a consolidated schools system blueprint. “This is almost our wish list.”

The still-preliminary recommendations include a superintendent’s office with nine cabinet members of division directors reporting directly to the superintendent.

School assignments for students would remain the same as they are now at the start of the merger with exceptions for school closings and new schools opening as well as the possibility of municipal school districts in some or all of the suburban municipalities.

The school district could provide support services such as transportation and building maintenance to charter schools, state-run schools as part of the Achievement School District and municipal school districts for a fee.

And the first-come, first-serve system of applying for transfers to schools with a waiting list for available spots would be converted to a lottery system.

And the recommendations for the first time put an approximate number on the schools that would fall into different categories of a school system with multiple paths to autonomy even within the six regions of the school district.

The estimate is the merger would start with 26 to 46 schools across the six regions – four in the city, one for northern Shelby County outside Memphis and one for southeastern Shelby County outside Memphis. Some of those schools could be innovation zone schools including seven city schools designated by the state just this month as innovation schools with accompanying state funding over five years starting next school year.

The merged school district would include an office of innovation to supervise those schools.

There would be 35-45 charter schools operating under contract with the unified school district. And there would be 12 in the state-run Achievement School District.

The planning commission also advanced a set of goals for the first four years of the merger including a 90 percent graduation rate and 60 percent of students ready for post-secondary education.

Other goals include expanding pre-kindergarten for to an additional 2,000 to 3,000 4-year olds. The goal includes using a single standard for judging the readiness of pre-k students who attend the pre-K classes across several different programs including Head Start.

And the planning commission included the goal of doubling the number of students taking at least one Advanced Placement course.

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