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VOL. 126 | NO. 190 | Thursday, September 29, 2011

Schools Planning Commission Begins Work

By Bill Dries

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The 21-member schools consolidation planning commission goes to work Thursday, Sept. 29, in a conference room at the city-county Office of Construction Code Enforcement in Shelby Farms.

The commission, established in the state schools consolidation law passed earlier this year, is one of two newly created bodies that will determine the specifics terms of the merger of Memphis City and Shelby County schools, as well as the structure of the new consolidated school system.

Its members were appointed by the heads of the two schools boards, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell.

The other group is the 23-member countywide school board that takes office Saturday, Oct. 1, under terms of a settlement by all parties in the federal court lawsuit over the merger. The board is all nine current members of the Memphis City Schools board, all seven current members of the Shelby County Schools board and seven new members appointed by the Shelby County Commission. The new board members take the oath of office Monday, Oct. 3, at MCS headquarters.

Thursday’s meeting of the planning commission is expected to be more of an orientation for the commission members on their precise role and relationship with the countywide board. The group will also select a leader or chairman.

Luttrell told members of both groups at a get-acquainted session last week that while each has a “distinct role,” they are also “interdependent” and must collaborate.

“The transition planning (commission) is responsible for developing a plan. The school board is responsible for looking at that plan, implementing the plan and moving forward with the merging of the school systems,” Luttrell said.

Attorneys for county government and the county school system were more specific, saying the plan for making two schools systems one is ultimately approved by the state of Tennessee but only after the plan is approved by the countywide school board.

There were some different thoughts at the meeting about who approves what first. Some planning commission members said they view the differing versions as a minor point that can be worked out by constant communication with the school board.

“We have a very, very tight timeline,” Luttrell said, referring to the ruling by Federal Court Judge Hardy Mays that sets August 2013 as the start of the first school year of a merged system. “But the reality of it is that by statutes we have one year to develop a plan, which means by August 2012, the plan has to be developed. … That’s already less than a year. We’re talking about 10 months to get the plan developed.”

Mays issued the consent decree late Wednesday that makes the agreement a formal consent decree. He added some background and cited some past court cases to explain the legal rationale for the agreement. But he didn't elaborate on the details of the memorandum of understanding.

Still to come is his appointment of a special master to oversee compliance with the settlement and his earlier ruling on other issues in the case.

The planning commission members are former interim Shelby County mayor and county commissioner Joyce Avery; former BRIDGES USA president Jim Boyd; Kenya Bradshaw of the nonprofit education reform group Stand For Children; Southeastern Asset Management president Staley Cates; Reginald Green, professor of educational leadership at the University of Memphis; former county commissioner Tommy Hart; retired Shelby County Schools operations chief Richard Holden; county schools parent and insurance executive Rickey Jeans; former county school board member Fred Johnson; Memphis City Schools board president Martavius Jones; University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law professor Daniel Kiel; Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell; Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald; Northaven Elementary School principal Louis Padgett; Shelby County Schools board chairman David Pickler; former MCS board member Barbara Prescott; FedEx Corp. executive vice president and general counsel Christine P. Richards; Barbara Roseborough, interim associate vice president at Southwest Tennessee Community College; Christian Brothers University president John Smarrelli Jr.; Larry Spiller, owner/operator of Home Pest Control Co. of Bartlett; and Katie Stanton, former president of the Tennessee Education Association and Shelby County Education Association.

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