VOL. 126 | NO. 198 | Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Orgel Heads New Consolidated School Board
By Bill Dries
The new chairman of the countywide school board will go to work in about two weeks when the board meets again after its first organizational session Monday evening.
Businessman Billy Orgel was elected chairman by the 23 member body and Dr. Jeff Warren was elected vice chairman.
Orgel, co-founder of Tower Ventures, has served on several boards over the years including the Public Building Authority that built FedExForum and the Port Commission.
Last year, he completed his service on the Metro Charter Commission, the appointed group that took on the politically controversial job of drawing up a proposed charter for consolidating Memphis City and Shelby County governments. The charter proposal lost at the polls in a dual referendum that saw it crushed among county voters outside Memphis even though it narrowly passed among Memphis voters.
Orgel opted to let outgoing Shelby County board chairman David Pickler preside over the entire first session of the countywide board which took about four hours.
Pickler wasn't nominated for the chairman's post. Neither was outgoing MCS board president Martavius Jones. Neither expected to be.
"I would be the most shocked person in the room if that happened," Pickler said before the meeting.
The length of the meeting demonstrated the challenges ahead for the largest legislative body in local government tasked with operating two separate school systems on their way to merging by the start of the 2013-2014 school year.
Among the decisions made by the board Monday was to meet on the next to last and last Tuesdays of each month at 5:30 p.m. The first session will be a work session at which there are no votes taken and the later meeting is a voting session.
Both superintendents – John Aitken for the county school system and Kriner Cash for the city school system – were appointed as secretaries of the board and they will pick a treasurer.
The selection could be an early test of the ability of the two school systems to merge functions that report to the already consolidated school board because it will involve picking the leader of one of the two financial departments.
The new board resisted a call by some to duplicate the role of treasurer as an acknowledgement that the two school systems still operate separately and under different rules. But the board as a whole rejected that with some members saying they didn’t want to add layers of bureaucracy to what is a single school board governing two systems for now.
The board also set its pay at $4,200 annually which is the amount Shelby County School board members are paid. MCS board members had been paid $5,000 annually. They delayed action on insurance and travel expenses, leaving in place existing travel budgets of the two school systems temporarily.
The consolidated board also went to a paperless laptop-based system of meeting and agenda information used by SCS which means all board members will be working off laptops. But they made no choice between the two competing software programs each school system uses for document management and meeting items like recording votes. The two systems are similar. For now, both systems will be used until the new board makes a decision in the immediate future.
The board also voted Monday to have attorneys for both school systems report directly to the consolidated board at least for now. MCS attorney Dorsey Hopson already reported directly to the MCS board. But SCS attorney Valerie Speakman’s arrangement was to report to the superintendent and the school board retained its own legal counsel.
That changes with the board vote Monday evening which came after a lengthy debate involving several of the attorneys serving on the school board.
One of them, Vanecia Kimbrow, pushed for the change saying it was “totally improper” for the school system’s to have attorneys that don’t report directly to the board.
The board still has to make a long term decision somewhere not too far down the road about who will be the general counsel for the consolidated school board.
Hopson’s contract allows for him to serve as general counsel of a consolidated school system but if he’s not general counsel to such a school system, it triggers a buyout clause in his contract he could exercise.
Hopson emphasized that he has no desire to leave the school system and that he and Speakman have worked well together for the respective school systems.