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VOL. 128 | NO. 89 | Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Hopson Says Merger Not Reason for Staff Cuts

By Bill Dries

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The interim superintendent of Shelby County’s two public school systems says staffing changes at some schools to start with the first school year of the merger aren’t as draconian as they could have been.

Dorsey Hopson, on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines,” said county schools staffing levels at the classroom and school level have been richer than the levels in Memphis City Schools. But those staffing levels were being funded with one-time money from the school system’s reserve fund, which had run out.

“So they would have had to make staffing cuts at the schools level next year anyway,” Hopson said. “I think one thing that gets lost is they cut about 120 teacher positions last year and it wasn’t magnified because it wasn’t done at the same time as the merger. The notion that they are losing positions solely because of the merger is just not true.”

HOPSON

The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video, video.memphisdailynews.com.

Hopson said he and his staff originally explored going to the Memphis City Schools staffing formula but decided the cuts for county schools would be too “draconian.”

They settled on a middle ground in which 186 teachers have been surplused as school principals have been told how many teachers they will have for the school year that opens for classes on Aug. 5 – the first school year of the merger. The principals are deciding which teachers stay and which are surplused.

“I think we have 186 teachers who were surplused,” Hospon said. “But we anticipate there being 1,100 or 1,200 vacancies. … I can say unequivocally every good teacher will have a position with the unified school district if they want one.”

Hopson also said principals are not letting go of teachers they value in a process that also reflects reforms at the state level in public education as well as local initiatives that give principals and teachers more say in where teachers are assigned.

“If a teacher is going to be somewhere, the principal has to want the teacher there and the teacher has to want to be there,” he added. “We also are in the middle of high stakes educational reform. … That is the real driver. It really has nothing to do with the merger. It just happens to be going on at the same time.”

“I think we have 186 teachers who were surplused. But we anticipate there being 1,100 or 1,200 vacancies. ... Every good teacher will have a position ... if they want one.”

–Dorsey Hopson

Hopson learned last week that he will be interim superintendent through most if not all of the first year of the schools merger. The countywide school board last week put off at least until the 2014-2015 school year the national search for a permanent superintendent.

Hopson was general counsel to Memphis City Schools at the outset and during the merger process. He became interim MCS superintendent with the resignation of Kriner Cash at the beginning of the year. And he became interim Shelby County Schools superintendent with the resignation of John Aitken in March.

Hopson said he has “mixed emotions” about the longer stay at the helm of the merger process.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I can’t imagine a more historical occurrence then merging these two school systems,” he added. “It’s a tremendous amount of work and a tremendous amount of pressure.”

Some of that pressure comes from putting together a budget that goes to the Shelby County Commission by May 22 when commissioners take their first hard look at the proposal.

County Commission Chairman Mike Ritz has said the school system can expect $9 million in new funding from the county as part of a 40-cent increase in the county property tax rate.

Early in his tenure, Hopson had said his goal was a budget that met that estimate. But Hopson said he will be prepared with several budget options including no new funding but also a proposed budget that will likely fall somewhere between the $57 million in new funding called for by the consolidation planning commission last summer and no new funding.

“We are working really hard to get it down to about a $40 million or $45 million gap. But we’re also going to do the work to show that if it’s not funded at that level we are going to show what it would look like at zero,” Hopson said. “If we go back to that Memphis City Schools staffing formula, that may save an additional $25 million or $30 million. That may have to be on the table if we don’t get funding. Nobody wants to do that. … But we’ll be able to show how to get it down to zero even if there’s no new money at all.”

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