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VOL. 126 | NO. 235 | Friday, December 2, 2011

Schools Planning Commission Hears From Huffman

By Bill Dries

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The schools consolidation planning commission approved the idea Thursday, Dec. 1, of the Shelby County Education Foundation being the middle man for a contract with an education consultant group.

But a contract with Boston Consulting Group isn’t quite ready yet said planning commission member and attorney Christine Richards who is drafting the agreement.

The foundation’s non-profit status allows it to do what the planning commission can’t do, enter into a contract agreement and hold a separate account for the private donations that would fund the cost of the study.

The foundation would not participate in the study in any way.

Planning commission chairwoman Barbara Prescott said she hoped the group would have a contract to vote on sometime this month. Richards characterized the contract as 80-85 percent complete.

BCG would work with the planning commission as it has with similar education reform groups and school leaders in other cities and states. The commission is drafting a plan for the merger of Shelby County’s two public school systems to start with the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year. The two school boards were merged this past October with seven new appointed board members added to the body.

Any consolidation plan goes to state education officials and the countywide school board for approval.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman told the planning commission Thursday that his office has “limited statutory authority in terms of prescribing what happens in that plan.” But Huffman said he wants to assist and work with the planning commission as it moves toward an August 2012 deadline to complete the plan.

“It’s obviously your work. But this is the largest district in the state of Tennessee,” he added. “This work is of the utmost importance to us. We want to be helpful to you.”

The commission is still hearing from other school systems, looking at individual schools in both school systems that perform well and generally getting itself organized.

Huffman said he hopes the result isn’t “simply structurally a larger school system but where the quality of education does not improve.”

“I believe that if at the end of this all that we have done is affected a financial merger of two systems – I think this will be a missed opportunity,” he said. “We think there is a chance with this merger to create the kind of central office with less bureaucracy and more orientation toward higher performance that will be a better central office – something parents will feel is more responsive to their needs.”

Huffman was quick to add that he wasn’t slighting or criticizing the front office of either school system.

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