Hopson Heads Both School Systems

By Bill Dries

The city and county school systems have a single school superintendent less than five months from the start of the first school year of the consolidated school system in Shelby County.

Interim Memphis City Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson was appointed interim Shelby County Schools superintendent at the first countywide school board meeting since the board approved a buyout last week of county schools superintendent John Aitken.

The buyout took effect immediately. Hopson is county schools superintendent until the school board picks a permanent superintendent. There is no target date for the selection.

“As long as it’s interim,” Hopson said before the board vote Tuesday, March 26.

“You are not getting a pay raise,” school board chairman Billy Orgel replied.

Meanwhile, Hopson stepped up his role and became more vocal in recommendations to the board on the terms of the merger. That had been Aitken’s role exclusively following the January board buyout of Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash.

Hopson also named a merger cabinet that included David Stephens, county schools assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, as his chief of staff and a deputy superintendent. The cabinet was appointed in consultation with Aitken.

In the deputy role, Hopson said Stephens, also the former Bolton High School principal, would work with suburban leaders and parents on the merger transition in those areas of the county.

Hopson also acknowledged that since Aitken’s buyout, the school systems are working to counter rumors that his departure will mean changes at the school level.

“The attendance zones will not change. School based personnel will not change…. We met with principals this week to roll out what the staffing policy is. … There is not going to be a huge migration of staff,” Hopson said. “Our goal is to make sure your child has the same or better experience in his or her school this year and next year.”

Orgel also defended the board’s pace in approving merger recommendations saying it has acted on 133 of 172 merger recommendations of the consolidation planning commission.

The board also approved a resolution Tuesday evening asking Memphis Federal Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays to delay plans by the Shelby County Commission to appoint six new members to the school board effective Sept. 1 making what would be a smaller seven member board on that date a 13-member board instead.

The resolution by school board member David Reaves would instead urge the court to delay the board expansion until voters select the six new members in the August 2014 county general elections.

School board attorney Valerie Speakman said attorneys for the Shelby County Commission in the federal court case requested some kind of statement from the school board on its opinion of the board expansion.

Attorneys for the suburban towns and cities are expected to tell the court they oppose the expansion.

Rick Masson, the special master appointed this month by Mays to oversee terms of the merger, was at the school board meeting.

“I, of course, will have to speak with the judge on this matter,” Masson told the school board after it approved the Reaves resolution. “I will say that one of the charges he gave me was to promote cooperation among the parties.”

Meanwhile the board approved the closing of four schools starting next school year – Coro Lake, Norris, Orleans and White’s Chapel Elementary Schools.

And Hopson defended the closings saying they were necessary to provide a better education. He also said the school system should probably close more schools. The planning commission recommended closing 20 schools going into the merger.

The school board voted down three other merger recommendations that would have changed the pay policy for teachers by moving away from the current system that increases teacher pay based on seniority and the attainment of advanced degrees. School board member Kevin Woods indicated he will move for reconsideration of the set of recommendations at the next school board voting meeting.

The recommendations failed on a 10-10 tie vote with three board members absent.