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VOL. 127 | NO. 150 | Thursday, August 2, 2012

Board Approves Formation of Transition Group

By Bill Dries

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There are recommendations to come, decisions by two school superintendents instead of one about who works on the coming schools merger and more public meetings after 75 already by the schools consolidation planning commission.


Such are the opening steps taken by the countywide school board Tuesday, July 31, on the selection of a single superintendent to lead Shelby County’s two public school systems into an August 2013 merger and the merger itself.


The board unanimously approved the formation of a transition group to be selected by superintendents John Aitken and Kriner Cash to begin the board’s consideration of the schools merger plan submitted last week by the consolidation planning commission. Each superintendent is to select members of his staff by the end of August to work together on a merger timeline.

“That transition team will then immediately begin to implement the review process and bring forth a recommendation to this board and body for approval,” said board member Vanecia Kimbrow who along with board member Freda Williams came up with the first step.

“We’ve got a lot ahead of us. I don’t think we can wait. We can’t pander. We can’t do anything that delays our decision,” said school board chairman Billy Orgel at the outset of the discussion. “We have no choice. We have to open this.”

Orgel was among those on the board who supported the first steps toward the transition. He also pressed for specific dates for reaching milestones including the new public hearings.

The school board approved an online survey through Monday Aug. 6 to gauge opinions of the consolidation plan. And the board is still arranging a series of public meetings between Aug. 13 and Aug. 25.

“As chairman I will call special meeting after special meeting after special meeting until we get through this,” Orgel said. “This isn’t a December-January issue. This is a now issue.”

School board member Kenneth Whalum Jr. said the board has different considerations and responsibilities than the planning commission.

“Truly the work of the (planning commission), though very important and crucial and indispensable, is not the same work we are about to undertake in acting on the plan,” Whalum said.

Some school board members have serious reservations about the most critical parts of the plan that the commission says represent substantial savings. They have also questioned the estimated savings from those recommendations.

Those include a recommendation that the board close as many as 20 underutilized schools in the western part of the city in a single school year and a recommendation that the merged school system outsource custodial and transportation services.

“We need to move and get working on this right away,” said school board member Jeff Warren who noted MCS staffers in particular disagree on some of the savings numbers in particular that the planning commission used in recommending the school closings. “The best way to do this is to accept this as a framework for how we are going to do this consolidation.”

Meanwhile, the committee of 13 approved for the superintendent search is also to report to the board by the end of August on the parameters for a superintendent search.

And then the search itself would begin.

Orgel will appoint the seven school board members and the full board will vote on approving six citizens not on the school board who will also serve on the panel.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and leaders of the planning commission, a group of 21 citizens including two school board members, have pointedly urged the board to not only get moving on the transition but also to select a single superintendent to oversee the merger and the transition to the merger as soon as possible.

The board voted to put in place a group of staff selected by Cash and Aitken that would lay out a timeline that may or may not be the detailed timeline included in the planning commission report.

The transition team is different than the “transition office” recommended by the planning commission in that the planning commission recommended a transition office with staff from both school systems selected by a single superintendent over both school systems.

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