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VOL. 126 | NO. 234 | Thursday, December 1, 2011

BCG Contract Approval Expected

By Bill Dries

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The schools consolidation planning commission could approve a contract with an education consultant at its Thursday, Dec. 1, meeting.

The panel that is to come up with the plan for a merger of the Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools systems will work through the Shelby County Schools Foundation and with private funding in the proposal to hire Boston Consulting Group.

The foundation was working earlier this week on a memorandum of understanding, said Planning Commission chairwoman Barbara Prescott.

“We’ve not approved it yet, but in concept we will work with them to be the contracting agent with the consulting group,” Prescott told the countywide school board. “The planning commission would manage and pace the phases of that work.”

If the planning commission approves, Prescott said a group of foundations and corporations are willing to pay the cost of hiring the consulting firm.

BCG is a global company whose research work covers a wide array of issues. The group undertook the research in a 2008 report on the state of public education in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.

That same year, BCG was part of a cost efficiency study of schools in Delaware.

In each case, BCG interviewed and met with numerous people as well as compiling and analyzing data.

In Delaware, the consultants worked with the group Leadership for Education Achievement, which presented its conclusions to the state’s governor who directed the efficiency study by executive order.

Like the Memphis group, LEAD hired BCG with financing from a private group. BCG began its work by interviewing all 18 members of the LEAD group individually and then moved on to similar interviews with others and then analyzing data to build what the LEAD report called a “robust fact base.”

The consulting group refers to its work in education reform as “social impact activities.”

And the work has included a 10-year strategy to improve the performance of Chicago Public Schools, specifically high schools in the third largest public school system in the U.S.

The planning commission’s goal is to have a merger plan ready for state education officials and the countywide school board to approve by August 2012 with the two school systems to merge at the start of the 2013-2014 school year.

Meanwhile, there are already indications the school board will take up some ideas for common policies for both school systems before a plan arrives next summer.

That includes a policy to set terms for the possible sale of school buildings to a separate suburban school system that might arise in 2013.

A resolution introduced by countywide school board member Martavius Jones at the Tuesday, Nov. 29, board meeting calls on the legal counsels for each system and both superintendents to set a specific policy for how school buildings in each district might be transferred to a special or municipal school district.

Jones said the policy they would recommend to the full board would “reflect any dealings with special school districts or municipal school districts.”

The board will discuss the resolution at its December work session and could vote on it at the last board meeting of the year the following week. The policy would be developed in 2012.

The move toward a policy is to be discussed as the six suburban municipalities await a report from consultants in mid-January that will outline possible options for a school system separate from the merged countywide school system. The options include the creation of a separate suburban school system. A key financial consideration is whether such a school system would have to buy the school buildings in a town or set of towns for fair market value or at some discounted amount.

Jones also offered another resolution for December that would specifically affect the way the school board conducts business.

During a marathon five-hour work session last week, Memphis City Schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash questioned why so many contracts and expenditures for his school system are on the board’s agenda with only one or two similar items for the Shelby County Schools system.

Such items required a vote of the old MCS board. But the SCS system requires only the approval of the county schools superintendent and the county school board chairman.

Jones introduced a resolution that would change the county school system procedure and “align” it with the MCS policy.

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