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VOL. 126 | NO. 38 | Thursday, February 24, 2011

Commission Finds Surprises in Countywide School Board District Lines

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County commissioners got their first detailed look Wednesday at district lines for a proposed 25-member countywide school board.

And there were some surprises in the proposed lines drawn by the Office of Planning and Development.

The districts separated all 16 incumbent board members – seven Shelby County Schools board members and nine Memphis City Schools board members – in different districts meaning none of them would have to vie with another incumbent to be appointed by the Shelby County Commission.

And all but one of the seven present county school board districts were redrawn to take in parts of the city of Memphis, meaning the commission could conceivably appoint someone from Memphis to six of the seven positions.

The commission is pursuing a second track toward consolidation of the two public school systems that is different from the March 8 schools consolidation referendum.

The commission intends to approve third and final reading of an ordinance at its Monday meeting that would expand the county school board from seven members to 25 to include districts in Memphis. The commission would then interview applicants for all 25 positions including the seven seats now held by the seven elected county school board members and make appointments sometime after the March 8 referendum, if the ballot question is approved by Memphis voters.

The 25-member appointed countywide school board would be a transitional board until elections in 2012 when the commission would consider reducing the size of the board, possibly to 13 members.

OPD officials drew the proposed district lines, also on Monday’s County Commission agenda, based on U.S. Census date from 2000. More current population information from the 2010 census won’t be released to local governments until April.

Attorneys advising the County Commission on the countywide school board proposal have advised commissioners they must use the older data and can adjust the district lines later once the 2010 data is released.

The review of the redistricting proposal during Wednesday committee sessions is the first by the commission involving a map. Several commissioners have said they intend to leave the seven elected county school board members in place based on legal advice that they probably can’t legally shorten the terms of elected county school board members.

But the district lines drawn with separate districts for the seven incumbent district MCS board members and the two incumbent at large or citywide MCS board members are a new development.

Critics of schools consolidation have long been critical of the move toward one school system saying MCS board members who voted to surrender the MCS charter in December shouldn’t have a place on a new consolidated school board.

Shelby County Schools board chairman David Pickler has taken the position that only the county school board can add positions to the board.

Several county commissioners expect that votes Monday by them to approve the district lines and additions in the number of county school board seats will prompt Pickler and the county school system to sue county government.

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