It was the issue that didn’t get a lot of public discussion in the initial move to form suburban school districts in Shelby County.
Suburban leaders envisioned that their six school systems would retain attendance zones and incorporate agreements that allowed all children attending the schools in their cities and towns to continue attending those same schools. That included thousands of children who live in unincorporated Shelby County including the Memphis annexation reserve area as well as their own reserve areas. And it included children in one suburban city who attended school in another suburban city.
The plan came with the caveat that if enrollment of students who live in a given suburban city or town grew and took school buildings to capacity, the suburban school district would make the children living in the city or town the priority.
Suburban leaders also acknowledged that the parents of those children not living within anyone’s city limits would have no representation on their school board, which are to be elected next month.
Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Tuesday, Oct. 22, that the consolidated school system has to plan for the education of those children even if they are able to attend the schools in the suburban school districts through some kind of open enrollment.
“If municipalities do not agree to take these kids in perpetuity, at some point they will return to the county school board and then we have a planning issue, regardless of who takes the kids on the front end,” Hopson told school board members with the mayors of three of the six suburban communities in the audience.
The result is a proposal by Hopson in which Shelby County Schools would continue to educate school-age children in the unincorporated areas of Shelby County and operate the 14 schools in those areas. It also includes keeping an elementary school in the Lucy area of Millington and all three schools in Germantown bearing that city’s name in the Shelby County Schools system because the bulk of the children attending them live in the Memphis annexation reserve area.
“We determined that if the board maintained the four schools … that we have capacity such that we would not have to ask the County Commission to build more schools,” Hopson added.
The plan would move students in unincorporated Shelby County now attending schools that would become part of the suburban school districts into different schools, all of which Hopson added have the capacity to handle more students.
The plan has support from some of the suburban mayors including Arlington Mayor Mike Wissman.
“It’s something that we’ve worked on for a long time. Cooler heads prevailed. SCS has done the due diligence,” he said. “I know there are some issues possibly with the building issue with Germantown and Millington. But I think it’s a step in the right direction.”
Germantown Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy, on the other hand, said she was “deeply disappointed” in the plan.
“By their keeping those three schools south of Poplar, it’s displacing, by our numbers, 1,300 out of 4,500 students,” she said. “Is that not disrupting students especially when you are transporting the great majority of them across Poplar?”
But school board member David Reaves of Bartlett said he is in favor of the general plan.
“Basically it came down to four schools,” he said of the schools in Germantown and Lucy. “We have no county capacity in the southeast and the only way to do that would be to build new facilities. And we don’t believe that the County Commission is going to be amenable to doing that.”
Shelby County government is the sole local funder of Shelby County Schools.
Without the four schools that seem to be at issue in the plan, Reaves said, “It puts us in a bit of a bind when it comes to open space. I understand the concern but we also have concerns in the southeast about where we are going to put our kids.”
The proposal is a pivotal element in private settlement talks between the Shelby County Commission and suburban leaders to end a two-and-a-half-year-old lawsuit whose latest phase involves the commission contesting the creation of the suburban school districts. Unlike earlier settlement talks on the matter, the round, which began in August, involves the county school board and its attorneys.
Shelby County Commissioner Chris Thomas said Wednesday he will probably bring a resolution to the full commission in the near future that would end the commission’s legal challenge of the suburban schools districts. He didn’t bring the resolution for Monday’s commission session.
The school board could vote on Hopson’s proposal as early as next week.