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VOL. 126 | NO. 41 | Tuesday, March 1, 2011

County Commission Plans to Appoint Countywide School Board End of March

By Bill Dries

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The Shelby County Commission plans to appoint a 25 member countywide school board on March 28 and the line has already starting forming for the appointments.

Commission chairman Sidney Chism said the commission has over 100 applications from those interested in being part of the new and legally questionable board.

The deadline for applicants to submit their resumes and fill out an application is March 22. The commission would interview the contenders on March 23 in a process that could take several days.

A majority on the commission claims state law and the county charter are on their side in going ahead. Many of them also expect that the Shelby County school system will be suing them possible as early as Tuesday over the set of votes Monday that put the foundation of a countywide school board in place.

“I think that we’re probably going to get sued,” Chism said after the meeting.

“We have an obligation to set in place a procedure to move forward,” he said of the so called second track pursuit of schools consolidation that began when the Memphis City Council ratified the Dec. 20 MCS board decision to surrender the school system’s charter.

The first track of the pursuit is the March 8 city referendum on the question.

If the ballot question is rejected by voters, commissioners have said they will not move ahead with putting in place the countywide school board.

And council members have said they will rescind their ratification of the charter surrender.

The appointed school board is intended to be a transition body until 2012 when the first elections for that board would be held and the county commission could move to make the school board smaller.

The commission approved on third and final reading the ordinance that expands the current seven member county school board to 25 members. It then approved a resolution setting the district lines for the 25 member board including the 18 new districts in the city of Memphis. And it approved a resolution setting the timetable for filling the seats.

The countywide school district lines approved Monday were set using a map that showed where all seven incumbent county school board members and all nine Memphis City Schools board members live. The lines were drawn by the commission so that no incumbent was in the same district with another incumbent.

The resolutions passed Monday also include language indicating the commission intends to appoint the seven incumbent county school board members to the seats they now hold. It is an acknowledgment that several legal opinions including one from the Tennessee Attorney General hold that the elected terms of the county school board members cannot be shortened. Four of the seven board members were just elected to four year terms that started in September. The remaining three are on the board through Aug. of 2012.

But the assurances in the resolution stopped short of an absolute commitment.

“I think that we should protect those county school board commissioners – those that have got terms that expire in 2012,” Chism said. “By then if the court actions take place, we probably would be through with all litigation and everything else and they won’t be there anyhow.”

If Chism’s point of view prevails with seven votes, that would mean county school board chairman David Pickler, the most visible opponent of the schools merger, would not be reappointed.

“I don’t believe that everybody that’s presently serving should go back on those boards just because they are serving now,” Chism said including the nine incumbent MCS board members. “I just don’t feel that we should do that. I don’t think commissioners are of a mindset to do that anyhow.”

But Commissioner Steve Mulroy said the resolution was “going out of our way” to make sure the seven county incumbents serve out their terms. He termed questions about whether all seven would be reappointed “much ado about nothing.”

“It’s really semantics,” Mulroy said.

The three commissioners opposing all of the resolutions and the ordinance said moving to fill all 25 positions is a significant switch from the original plan to create 18 new districts to include the city and appoint members to only those districts. Commissioners Terry Roland, Wyatt Bunker and Chris Thomas also opposed the original plan.

“We're legislating like a bunch of elementary school students ... throwing a bunch of crud on the wall and seeing what sticks,” Bunker said.

“I don't think anyone here needs to apologize ... for why Memphis should be represented on a countywide school board,” countered Commissioner Mike Ritz.

In the event a court rules the commission cannot add positions to the county school board, the commission approved a back up seven district plan that keeps the board the same size but redraws the district lines to take in the city of Memphis.

Ritz indicated he had some problems with not enough districts that represent the county outside the city and said he will move for amendments at a later date.

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