School Board Delays Vote On School Closings

By Bill Dries

Countywide school board members put off a vote Tuesday, Nov. 20, on a recommendation to close 21 schools in northwest and southwest Memphis.

The recommendation from the schools consolidation planning commission is considered one of the most controversial items from the citizens group that made 172 recommendations in all on the move to a merger of Shelby County's two public school systems earlier this year.

The school board has approved 48 of the 172 recommendations so far and called the special meeting for Tuesday to take up just the schools closing recommendation.

But with five of the 23 board members absent, the board voted to hold another special meeting Thursday, Nov. 29, at 4 p.m. at the Teaching and Learning Academy, where the board holds its regular meetings.

The schools closing recommendation is the only item on the agenda for the session.

At the special meeting, Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash and Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken are expected to make a recommendation to the school board that differs significantly from what the planning commission recommended.

Cash has been vocal in questioning the savings the planning commission estimates the school closings would mean.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell has emphasized that the school board's decision on school closings and other recommendations to outsource custodial work and bus service will be an important factor in whether he recommends additional county funding for the merged school system above and beyond the funding each school system now gets from county government.

The 21 schools that the planning commission recommended for closing in a single school year are all under utilized and their closings would help to increase building utilization rates across what are now the two separate school systems.

Six are in Northwest Memphis – three elementary schools, one middle school and two high schools – and 15 are in Southwest Memphis – seven elementary, six middle and two high schools.

School closings are among the most controversial actions any school board can take and next week's meeting is expected to draw large groups of citizens advocating for keeping their schools open.

Meanwhile, all sides in the municipal school districts lawsuit are expected to continue with mediation efforts Wednesday in Memphis Federal Court.

The different parties met privately Monday at the start of a mediation effort that U.S. District Court Judge Samuel "Hardy" Mays is personally overseeing.

No one involved is commenting on the specific goals of the mediation efforts and what offers have been made by the different sides.