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VOL. 126 | NO. 167 | Friday, August 26, 2011

School Systems Brace for Rapid Transition

By Bill Dries

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The still-tentative settlement of the most political part of the schools consolidation lawsuit will mean a quick transition for the most critical player in the change – the county school board that becomes the countywide school board in five weeks.

Oct. 1 is when the Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools boards are put together for 16 positions on a 23-member transitional countywide board.

The Shelby County Commission appoints the remaining seven members based on seven districts covering the entire county including Memphis. The commission has already submitted a set of boundaries for seven districts.

The city and county school boards were to meet in separate special sessions Thursday, Aug. 25, to vote on the settlement and appoint five members each to the 21-member consolidation planning committee.

The 23-member school board that goes to work Oct. 1 serves until Sept. 1, 2013, about the start of a school year and the court-ordered start date for the consolidation of Shelby County’s two public school systems.

That’s when the size of the board drops to the seven members required in the Shelby County charter and upheld by the Aug. 8 ruling of U.S. District Court Judge Hardy Mays.

Those seven members who begin their terms on Sept. 1, 2013, will have been elected a year before in the August 2012 county elections based on the same district lines used for the school board appointees. They could include some or all of the seven appointees.

The two figures likely to feel the change first are the two school system superintendents. Under terms of the settlement, Kriner Cash and John Aitken remain as the heads of the two school systems, which remain separate school systems, but with one board.

“This is huge,” said Aitken who was involved in the mediation sessions. “You’ve got to step back now. I’ve sat through some grueling mediation, learned a lot, learned a lot about other people and their commitment to the community.”

Cash was not present at the settlement announcement or the mediation. The school system was represented in the way of clients by MCS board president Martavius Jones.

Cash has viewed the swift move to consolidation as something of a rival to the education reform agenda he came to Memphis three years ago to carry out. It’s a rival he has since learned to accept as a political fact of life at the end of a two-year timeline.

That two-year period to make gains in measuring teacher effectiveness and change the career pipeline that molds and delivers teachers to Memphis classrooms may remain intact.

But in five weeks, Cash reports to a different school board that includes nine familiar faces but will also include 14 new faces – who could be a new working majority.

That majority replaces a board Cash has had disagreements with, but which had a majority that agreed to leave the day to day running of the system and the pursuit of the reform agenda to Cash once they made policy decisions.

The Aug. 8 ruling by Mays did not settle the question of how a transition works including the transition to an elected school board that includes representation for citizens in the city of Memphis.

After issuing his ruling earlier this month, Mays quickly indicated he wanted to make a second try at mediation to work out a settlement instead of issuing another court order.

But sources close to the mediation effort that succeeded told The Daily News Mays was firm in his insistence that there was limited time and that there would either be a settlement by the parties or a ruling by him on the remaining points at the end of this week.

In addition to the planning commission in state law, the settlement sets up the appointment of a special master by Mays to oversee the consent decree to come. The court decides the pay of the special master and the cost is split 50-50 by both school systems. The special master’s work ends Sept. 1, 2013, and so does court supervision.

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