For five of the six municipal schools boards that began taking office this week, their only formal involvement in the talks that led to agreements on school buildings and ending the federal lawsuit that threatened to hold up their start dates was to approve the agreements already negotiated.
Houston High School, inside the city limits of Germantown, awaits its future as the Germantown School Board has yet to come to an agreement with the county.
(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)
And the school boards in Bartlett, Collierville, Millington, Lakeland and Arlington did just that Monday, Dec. 2, at separate meetings. Their next major decisions will be picking superintendents.
The inaugural meetings of the six school boards followed just about the same blueprint. Each board elected a chairman and vice chairman and approved a basic set of policies that are their rules of procedure. The only one of the boards that did not approve an agreement with Shelby County Schools and the Shelby County Commission was the Germantown School Board.
Municipal leaders in Germantown who now include the school board are still talking terms of an agreement with Shelby County Schools.
Shelby County Schools leaders want to keep Germantown Elementary, Middle and High Schools within their system as a way to meet their obligation to educate children in the unincorporated county. A majority of students who attend Germantown Middle and High Schools live outside the Germantown city limits.
Germantown leaders have made a counter proposal that would keep two of the “three Gs,” as they are known, in Shelby County Schools but would include Germantown Elementary School in the new Germantown Schools system.
The Collierville Schools website, www.colliervilleschools.org, includes a tab titled “Meet Your Superintendent” that so far includes a silhouette.
None of the boards sworn in Monday evening selected a superintendent or director of schools.
Arlington Mayor Mike Wissman announced before that town’s school board took the oath that former Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken had pulled out of consideration as a candidate for that school system.
That probably also means he’s out of consideration for the Lakeland job as well since leaders of both towns have approved an agreement to seek a common superintendent and other shared services for their two school systems.
Aitken attended the swearing in of the Collierville Schools board.
The five members of the Bartlett Schools board elected Jeff Norris as their chairman and Bryan Woodruff as vice chairman before approving the agreement in which the city of Bartlett pays Shelby County Schools $7.2 million for all of the public schools within the borders of Bartlett and to end the lawsuit by the Shelby County Commission contesting the existence of the suburban school districts.
Hours before the school boards took office, Shelby County Commissioners met in special session and approved agreements for suburban school districts in Millington, Collierville and Bartlett with little discussion.
The commission had approved in November similar agreements negotiated with elected leaders in Arlington and Lakeland.
Bartlett’s pact with county leaders involved the highest dollar total of any of the five suburban towns and cities who have come to an agreement. It also included what was essential to any agreement, according to Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald – the County Commission dropping its federal lawsuit contesting the creation of the suburban school systems on the grounds they violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The claim by the commission would have meant possibly years of litigation for all sides and a court case similar in complexity to the schools desegregation cases of the 1960s and 1970s. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee made the comparison earlier this year.
County Commissioner Henri Brooks, who missed the meeting because she was ill, sent a letter saying she would have voted “no” because “this is not a good deal for my constituents and it leaves many questions of equity and fairness to be addressed.”
Brooks specifically mentioned the Equal Protection Clause claim.
“The people hoped it would be their insurance against resegregation,” Brooks wrote. “Now they know that it was not about that on any level.”
After the Bartlett Schools board meeting, Norris said the board’s first steps continue with seeing the still-tentative agreements all the way through the legal process.
“I don’t think relief will be here until the lawsuit is formally settled by Judge Mays,” Norris said. “I think we are all looking forward to that day before anybody is ready to consider this something that we’re actually moving forward on that can’t be undone.”
The end of November was the deadline for candidates to apply with Bartlett’s consultant in the search for its school system’s superintendent, Southern Educational Strategies.
“We’re waiting on them to bring us candidates back. … They need to vet all of the candidates that actually applied,” said Norris, who planned to talk with company executives this week. “I think everyone up here hopes that is before Christmas.”