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VOL. 126 | NO. 3 | Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mayors Propose Schools Transition Plan Legislation

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell are proposing an 11-member planning team to plot out a transition to school consolidation if voters approve a Memphis City Schools system charter surrender in February.

After weeks of legal opinions and consultations, the mayors told reporters Tuesday afternoon that they still can find no precedent in state law for how to consolidate Shelby County’s two public school systems.

They’ve seen plenty of detailed provisions for other kinds of school system consolidations.

“Memphis and Shelby County are not covered because of the unique character of the Memphis city school system,” Wharton said.

So, they are proposing the planning team they would appoint within 30 days of voters approving the MCS charter surrender. The team would meet within 15 days of being appointed and would have four months from the first meeting to come up with a transition plan.

The report would cover how the school district would be operated and what the organizational structure would look like. There would also be a recommendation on what a new countywide school board would look like in terms of its members and the size of districts.

The plan would be submitted for approval to the Shelby County Commission, which would approve the district lines, and the Shelby County school board.

The scenario for a transition plan would have to be in the form of legislation approved by the Tennessee legislature, according to Wharton and Luttrell. And their hope is the legislation could be approved before the February election date.

Democratic state Rep. G.A. Hardaway, who listened from the front row of the City Hall press conference, said he would support such legislation but expressed doubts that the legislature could get it done without opening the door to other legislation that might permit the Shelby County school system to win its decade-long goal of becoming a special school district.

The quest for special school district status in a state House with an improved Republican majority this year was what prompted MCS board members to consider and approve the MCS charter surrender.

Special school district status would keep county schools separate from city schools.

State law presently doesn’t provide for a transition in the consolidation that would result from voters approving the MCS charter surrender.

And earlier this week, county school board chairman David Pickler emphasized that state law puts the existing county school board in charge of the consolidated system.

He says that would be the case through 2014, but other elected leaders have said the County Commission would move quickly to redraw the district lines for the school board to include city of Memphis districts and representation on the board.

Luttrell and Wharton were asked repeatedly their opinions of Pickler’s version of a consolidation scenario. Neither offered an opinion, saying they had not seen or watched his comments.

They also said they will not take a public position on the charter surrender referendum.

Luttrell called the planning team proposal “a very workable process.”

He said he and Wharton will “try to be spokesmen for calm and reason, for deliberation, for a very issue-oriented discussion in the next several weeks.”

“We’re trying to bring some clarity to the situation,” he said.

PROPERTY SALES 56 295 6,392
MORTGAGES 26 180 4,035
BUILDING PERMITS 128 840 15,361
BANKRUPTCIES 31 153 3,270