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VOL. 128 | NO. 80 | Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Hopson Proposes Closing 11 Schools In 2014-2015

By Bill Dries

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Memphis-Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson is proposing the countywide school board close 11 more schools, 10 in the city of Memphis and one in Millington.

The closings which include three Memphis high schools – Northside, Carver and Westwood – would take effect in the 2014-2015 school year if approved by the school board.

The board votes Tuesday, April 30, on starting the process which includes public hearings.

When Hopson was appointed interim Memphis City Schools superintendent in March, making him the leader of both school systems, he said then that he believed the school system should close more than the four schools the board voted to close earlier this year.

The schools recommended Tuesday, April 23, by Hopson, in addition to Northside, Carver and Westwood High Schools are: E. A. Harrold Elementary School in Millington; Corry and Lanier Middle Schools; and Shannon, Riverview, Alcy, Graves and Westhaven Elementary Schools.

All of the city schools were on two lists of schools for possible closure made by former Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash but not submitted to the school board for consideration.

“I asked the staff to go back through slates 2 and 3 and see whether or not it still made sense to make these recommendations,” Hopson said. “In some instances, it made even more sense.”

Hopson said the criteria for the recommendations included enrollment in the schools and their capacity as well as the condition of the schools.

“I don’t want the board to think about this in terms of saving money,” he added. “I think you should be motivated by the best interest of the students.”

Schools with smaller enrollments usually don’t get the array of programs and class offerings that larger schools get.

In the case of Harrold, the school building had been slated for replacement by Shelby County Schools. It is near two other elementary schools that are newer and have more capacity. Harrold was built to hold 360 students and has 387 students as well as eight portable classrooms.

Carver students would move to Booker T. Washington and Hamilton High Schools. Hopson said it was an opportunity to bolster class offering at BTW and he touted the school’s heritage.

Students from Westwood would attend Fairley and Mitchell High Schools.

And Northside High students would be transferred to Manassas and Douglass High Schools in North Memphis. The shift would mean some Douglass students would then be zoned into East High School.

Northside is slated in the 2014-2015 school year to accommodate several charter schools and Hopson said that agreement would remain in effect.

Hopson said before Monday evening’s school board meeting he talked with former MCS superintendent Dr. Willie Herenton, whose W.E.B. DuBois Consortium would run the charter schools, about the proposal. He also said city of Memphis government leaders were briefed and expressed concerns about the community impact of the schools closings which would be concentrated in the southwest Memphis area.

Shannon Elementary and Corry Middle Schools are part of the state-run Achievement School District for the state’s bottom five percent of schools in terms of student achievement effective with the Aug. 5 start of the 2013-2014 school year. The ASD will take the lowest grade from each school in that first year in a gradual phase in.

Hopson is proposing the remaining grades in each school be closed the following school year. If the Achievement School District doesn’t phase-in the remaining grades in the 2014-2015 school year, the Corry students remaining would be transferred to Hamilton Middle School and the Shannon students would go to Vollentine Elementary.

Lanier students would attend A. Maceo Walker and Geeter Middle Schools.

Riverview students would attend Florida-Kansas Elementary School, a school that is the result of an earlier merger of two elementary schools in the area.

Alcy students would transfer to Magnolia and Hamilton Elementary Schools.

Graves students would be assigned to Ford Road, Raineshaven and Levi Elementary Schools.

Westhaven students would go to either Fairley or Westwood Elementary Schools.

The recommendations drew a mixed reaction from the school board with some of the members saying they support it and others saying they cannot even vote to begin public hearings.

Meanwhile, school board member Kenneth Whalum Jr., an outspoken opponent of any school closings, added a resolution to next week’s agenda that would ask Memphis Federal Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays to delay the Aug. 5 start of the schools merger.

Whalum is calling for the delay because of the probability of the formation of municipal school districts in Shelby County’s six suburban towns and cities. The Tennessee legislature has passed a law lifting the statewide ban on the creation of such school districts. Mayors of the six towns and cities are working toward the first step of ballot questions on the formation of the school districts with a tentative election date for the referendums in July.

In other action, the school board heard from KPMG project consultants that the switch to the Enterprise Resource Planning computer system for the merged school system is “significantly” behind in its goal of being up and running by the July 1 start of the fiscal year. July 1 begins the first fiscal year of the consolidated school district.

The computer system to handle the payroll and other human resources functions of the consolidated school district was one of the first moves both school systems made toward the merger. The $15 million in funding for the ERP system was also the first allocation of funding for the merger made by the Shelby County Commission.

The firm, which provided program management support, said the delays after the initial start were because a lack of “timely made decisions.” The firm is recommending the board tell its staff to begin assembling a contingency plan.

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