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VOL. 125 | NO. 246 | Monday, December 20, 2010

MCS to Consider Charter Surrender Resolution

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Schools board members may make the most important decision of their tenures Monday night with a resolution to surrender the school system’s charter.

If the resolution passes and is then sent to the Shelby County Election Commission, the charter would go to Memphis voters for a referendum sometime in March.

Going into the meeting, the Shelby County Schools board has approved a resolution in which it agrees not to push state legislation to create a special school district for county schools through 2013.

In return, the county school board wants the city school board to drop the charter surrender resolution for the same period of time.

The third part of the deal would be the formation of an eight-member panel by the end of January to study school funding and school boundary issues.

The charter surrender resolution was a reaction to the prospect that special school district legislation stands a better chance of passing in the upcoming two-year session of the Tennessee Legislature.

That is because of the enhanced Republican majority in the House after the Nov. 2 elections.

Shelby County school board chairman David Pickler has pushed the legislation for the last decade.

He has said he wants to freeze current school system boundaries and eliminate any possibility the two school systems could consolidate.

Memphis City Schools board members differ among themselves on a charter surrender.

The latest head count shows four city schools board members favor a charter surrender resolution, one short of the five-vote majority needed on the nine-member board.

They are: Martavius Jones, who sponsored the resolution; Tomeka Hart, who seconded it; Sharon Webb, for whom Monday night’s meeting will be her last as a board member; and Stephanie Gatewood, who may be leaving the school board if she wins appointment to the open state House District 98 seat the County Commission will fill earlier in the day Monday.

Those opposed to the charter surrender are board president Freda Williams and Kenneth Whalum Jr.

The three board members who haven’t expressed a clear position for or against the resolution are Betty Mallott, Patrice Robinson and Jeff Warren.

A clear majority on the board oppose special school district status for county schools, citing a University of Memphis study showing it would result in a loss of half of the county property tax base that funds MCS.

The tax base is the dominant source of local funds for MCS, which gets a much smaller amount from the Memphis property tax base.

County school system leaders dispute the conclusion, saying legislation could be tailored to keep the funding sources and levels as they are.

“For this organization to look to give up their charter and place it on a referendum without fully understanding all the impact – all the implications of this – is quite frankly scary,” Pickler said last week after the MCS board had its first debate on the issue.

“We have all the time we need to try to create the right solution.”

The drawback to a stand-down by both sides on the two proposals is that there would be nothing preventing a legislator from another part of the state from putting a bill in the hopper to repeal the Legislature’s 1982 ban on the creation of any new school districts.

And the Tennessee School Boards Association in particular has been pushing for such legislation as other local school districts across the state face funding cuts from other local bodies that have taxing authority.

It is that possibility that has prompted some Memphis City Schools board members to be wary of pledges by the county school leaders.

Hart and Jones have been vocal in noting there were no attempts by county school leaders to seriously talk about terms of the legislation with city school leaders until the charter surrender resolution was proposed.

Pickler has said he’s always been willing to talk and that in the last four weeks there have been no substantive discussions on the matter between the county’s two public school systems despite his offer and a pledge by Senate Republican leader Mark Norris of Collierville to block a special schools legislation in his chamber for 2011.

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BUILDING PERMITS 190 277 3,028