VOL. 126 | NO. 170 | Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Interviews Next Step in Board Selection
By Bill Dries
In a week, Shelby County Commissioners expect a long day when they interview contenders for the seven appointments they are to make to the new countywide school board.
Shelby County Commissioners Heidi Shafer and Mike Carpenter listen to an agenda dealing with the 2011 budget and tax rate.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
The commission’s general government committee will interview the applicants Sept. 7, the day after the deadline for citizens to fill out a questionnaire and agree to undergo a criminal background check.
New applicants will join the more than 100 applicants who applied earlier this year when the commission considered appointing citizens to a 25-member countywide school board and then called off the appointments at the request of federal court Judge Hardy Mays.
“I think we’ll get quite a few,” said Commissioner Mike Carpenter, who will chair the committee. “I think before, maybe some of these folks were discouraged because it was a bit of an experiment. Now we’re pretty clear about what’s going to happen over the next two years.”
The commission spent 12 hours interviewing applicants in a process Mays later ruled was a violation of the county charter, which sets the size of the school board at seven members.
Some members of both school board members who had applied have dropped out since they will have seats on the new 23-member transitional board that includes the seven appointees to come.
Carpenter said previous applicants do not have to reapply and probably won’t be re-interviewed.
“I think in fairness to them they ought to at least get a chance to say hello and remind folks of who they are, a minute or two to remind us,” Carpenter said. “Remember we have mounds of information on these folks from the first time around.”
That includes a questionnaire with questions about whether the applicants are Republicans or Democrats, whether they attended public or private schools and how they stood on the issue of schools consolidation.
Commissioner Heidi Shafer argued that those questions shouldn’t be included on the new questionnaire.
“I think it just keeps people stirred up and just leads to more of a feeling that this is a political gotcha and that this has been forced on people,” she said. “If we are really going to try to create a system that is a unified system, we have to put all of that behind us. If some commissioners want to ask the question, I think they should feel free to ask it.”
Commissioner Steve Mulroy argued that the questionnaire should reflect questions that would be asked of every applicant by someone on the commission. He said it makes the process more efficient.
“It’s at least relevant,” Mulroy said of the question about party affiliation. “It’s not a deal breaker.”
He also said it would be relevant if an applicant had favored the 1990 secession from Shelby County proposed by the six suburban mayors of the time as a reaction to a schools consolidation movement then.
“That is at least remotely relevant as to whether they should be on a unified county school board,” Mulroy said. “It may not be disqualifying, but it’s one factor among many.”
Commissioner Walter Bailey agreed with Shafer that such questions might have a “chilling effect” on those considering applying for an appointment.
Meanwhile, the boundaries of the seven districts have caused some shuffling among the appointees that will come into play as Carpenter and his committee decide whether to conduct a straw poll to indicate recommendations to the full commission.
“It’s going to depend on how many new applicants we get as to whether or not we feel the need to narrow it even further as we did before,” he said. “Right now, in the new District 1 you are going to have seven or eight individuals – maybe nine or 10 – from the finalist pools alone who were finalists in other districts previously. It does make some sense, I think, to maybe narrow it down further.”
The recommendations do not prevent any commissioner from nominating anyone they want once the full commission takes up the matter at its Sept. 12 meeting.
The new school board takes office Oct. 1 under terms of the settlement that was approved Monday, Aug. 29 by the County Commission, last week by both school boards and lacks approval only by the Memphis City Council.