School Board Bans Corporal Punishment, Pushes State Legislation on City Funding

By Bill Dries

Less than a week from the start of the first year of the consolidated school district, countywide school board members Tuesday, July 30, approved a series of policy decisions that reconcile differences between the old Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools systems.

The changes include banning corporal punishment in the merged school district and doing away with a requirement that every school have a Parent Teacher Association.

The changes repeal policies of the old Shelby County Schools system.

Although the county schools policies permitted principals to use corporal punishment, board members were told principals and teachers seldom if ever used the option. Memphis City Schools specifically banned corporal punishment.

The county school system’s requirement that all schools have Parent Teacher Association chapters was replaced instead with a policy saying the school system encourages the formation of “parent-led organizations” at each school that could include a PTA chapter as well as Parent Teacher Student Associations or Parent Teacher Organizations.

The board also approved the idea of seeking a state law that sets up a process for the state acting when a local government doesn’t meet its maintenance of effort requirement to fund a local school system.

The resolution which would lead to the school system lobbying for a piece of legislation before the Tennessee legislature next year is a response to the school system’s continuing effort to collect on a $57 million state court judgment the school system won against the city of Memphis.

The school system successfully sued the city over the 2008 Memphis City Council vote to cut city funding to Memphis City Schools. The school system hasn’t collected on the judgment because of a counter claim the city has against the school system claiming it is owed more than the judgment in repayment of funding it provided the school system over several years.

School board member David Reaves said the idea of his proposal is sanctions including withholding state funding to any local government until it pays the maintenance of effort amount.

Interim schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson endorsed the effort. Hopson said he and his staff approached the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. several months ago about paying the judgment over several years. The city came back much later according to Hopson with a counter offer “that suggests the city doesn’t have any interest in trying to resolve this.”

“This board has tried and tried and tried and we’ve gotten nowhere,” he added. “The only option is to select a court … and it may be four or five more years.”

In other action, the board approved a contract for the W.E.B. DuBois Consortium charter school organization to establish a charter school within Hillcrest High School in Whitehaven.

The one-year agreement is for the school year that begins next week. The consortium is the charter school organization that includes former Memphis Mayor and Memphis City Schools superintendent Willie Herenton which will also operate a similar charter school within Northside High School with the new school year.

And the board approved closing Fairview Middle School as a conventional school at the end of the 2013-2014 school year and reopening it the following year as an optional school. The new optional school would have a program emphasizing science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics – or a STEAM emphasis.

The board will vote again sometime later in the current calendar year on a specific comprehensive plan for the transition of the school. That will include the rezoning of students.