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VOL. 128 | NO. 85 | Wednesday, May 01, 2013

School Board Delays Supt. Search, Approves Merger Outsourcing Contracts

By Bill Dries

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Countywide school board members voted Tuesday, April 30, to move their search for a merger superintendent beyond the August start of the merger.

But the board voted down a resolution asking Memphis Federal Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays to consider delaying the merger itself.

The board actions Tuesday also included approving a process to consider closing a dozen schools in the 2014-2015 school year. Public hearings in the affected communities are generally slated to begin in August.

Gordon Elementary School was added to the list of 11 announced by interim schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson last week that included three high schools – Northside, Carver and Westwood. Gordon had been considered for closing last year by the school board but was taken off the list by then Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash because of the co location of an Achievement School District school for Humes Middle School students at Gordon.

The state-run ASD school for the Humes students will move into Humes with the 2013-2014 schools year.

And the board approved a $21.9 million contract Tuesday with GCA of Knoxville to outsource school custodial services in the consolidated school system.

And school board members also gave the green light to a hybrid that outsources some transportation services while keeping a fleet of in-house buses. It amounts to a $9.5 million contract with Durham School Services which would operate buses in the northwest and southwest parts of Memphis. The school district’s bus fleet would operate at schools in the rest of Shelby County but with a route system that has been pared down in the schools merger to come.

Hopson told board member Tuesday that the hybrid model will also involve three start times for schools across the merged system – 7 a.m., 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. The board is to get details of what schools get what start times later this week.

The suspension of the process of trying to recruit candidates to be superintendent was a request by PROACT, the search firm hired by the board to conduct a national search. The board also voted to suspend payments to PROACT as part of the action.

PROACT executive cited the changing terms of the merger and the uncertainty surrounding the merger in general as well as the unprecedented size of the undertaking as reasons it had become difficult to recruit contenders.

The resolution urging Mays to “suspend” the start of the schools merger for a year was made by school board member Kenneth Whalum Jr. It quickly became apparent the votes were not there on the board after the first public remarks to the board as a group by Rick Masson, the special master appointed by Mays to oversee the path to the merger by the Aug. 5 start of the new school year.

“There really is no legal basis for the judge to make that decision,” Masson told the board. “You could end up with a more difficult situation.”

For instance, Masson said attorneys for the city of Memphis likely would oppose such a move because it would mean another fiscal year of city funding for Memphis City Schools and central office reductions for the single consolidated school district would have to be undone requiring the school board to find $14 million in funding that is now the savings from those cuts.

“There are more financial issues than you have today,” Masson, a former city Chief Administrative Officer, warned.

School board member David Reaves, meanwhile, moved a substitute motion urging Mays to instead immediately reduce the 23-member board to the 7 members elected in 2012 instead of waiting until Sept. 1 as planned.

That motion also failed.

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