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VOL. 126 | NO. 175 | Thursday, September 8, 2011

Commission Readies to Replace Carpenter

By Bill Dries

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After the Shelby County Commission fills seven positions on the new countywide school board next week, it will then consider a vacancy in its own ranks.


The departure of commissioner Mike Carpenter at the end of this month dovetails with the seating of the countywide school board that will replace the separate Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools boards on Oct. 1.

Carpenter played a pivotal role in the schools consolidation process going back to his role on the 2008-2009 single-source funding study committee that brought together leaders of both school systems as well as other citizens.

With his departure Oct. 1, Carpenter will be moving to Nashville but he won’t be far from the issue of education reform.

He is resigning from the commission to become state director of StudentsFirst, the statewide education reform group headed by former Washington schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.

“This new role is a natural extension of that work because it will allow me to be an advocate for the kind of educational reform that can transform the lives of children throughout Tennessee for generations to come,” Carpenter said Tuesday, Sept. 6, of his work on education issues in general. “For too long in our state and our nation, the education system has pitted the interests of adults against the best interests of children.”

The single-source funding committee ultimately deadlocked on a single-source funding path for both of the county’s public school systems short of consolidation. The goal was for Shelby County government to become the single source of local funding for both school systems. It is the only source of local funding for county schools and the majority local funder of the city school system.

Many of the points made during the sometimes-heated discussions among the task force members were central points heard later on a much larger scale in the run up to the March city referendum that made schools consolidation a reality.

The group’s failure to come to an agreement on the county school system’s pursuit of special school district status and the distrust many in the group expressed in the process spilled over into the fast-forming schools consolidation effort.

Once Republicans enlarged their majority in the state House in the November state general elections, those on the single-source funding group were among the first to call for schools consolidation to head off the more certain passage of special school district status county schools leaders had been seeking for a decade. They argued special school district status for county schools would permanently block any possibility of schools consolidation.

Carpenter has been a part of the six-member Republican minority on the 13-member commission, but he has rarely voted along party lines or in a party block.

On several issues, including schools consolidation, he voted with the Democratic majority.

During his first term, Carpenter voted with Democrats seeking to create positions for additional Juvenile Court judges and change long-standing practices in the court system as long-time Judge Kenneth Turner left office and current Judge Curtis Person Jr. was elected and began his tenure.

Person filed suit over the attempt to create more positions and won the court battle.

Carpenter’s other causes have included several passes at trying to limit the amount of paid leave county employees can bank or save up and cash in when they retire.

He has been a vocal backer of funding for a Family Safety Center to combine resources for troubled families in one place.

And he was an early advocate of what became the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy.

Carpenter, who left his yearlong duties as vice chairman starting this month, considered a bid to become chairman of the commission starting for a one-year term this month. The rotation from vice chairman to chairman has been among the traditions of the commission for several years. But it is more custom than rule.

When commission chairman Sidney Chism indicated he wanted to serve a second term, Carpenter weighed his options before opting to drop out of the race for chairman.

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