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VOL. 127 | NO. 153 | Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Orgel Talks ‘Glass Ceilings,’ School Buildings

By Bill Dries

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Countywide school board chairman Billy Orgel says there is a “glass ceiling” sometimes when it comes to considering local educators for the leadership of what will be a merged public school system in one more school year.


Orgel commented on the school board’s search for a superintendent during a Web extra segment of the WKNO television program “Behind The Headlines.”

“We can’t keep bringing in people from the outside and have almost a glass ceiling for everybody that’s been in the system for a long time,” Orgel said. “We say we need leadership and we’re going to go to Detroit to Denver – we’re going to go to L.A. We need to grow some talent here. We’ve got 250 principals, 10,000 teachers. Certainly we can find the next Willie Herenton that grew up in the system – the next John Aitken who grew up in the system, or Johnnie B. Watson, who grew up in the system.”

On the lack of reference to current Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash who came to Memphis from experience in systems outside the region, Orgel noted that the board voted not to renew Cash’s contract beyond August 2013. He also noted that Cash recently updated board members on job opportunities he is pursuing in other places.

Orgel also said the school board needs to pick a single superintendent as soon as possible to oversee the transition to the merger in the last school year that there are two separate public school systems in Shelby County. The board voted last week to form an ad hoc committee to set the parameters and procedure for a superintendent search.

With the Aug. 2 elections decided at least pending a federal court hearing and decision on the constitutionality of the state law allowing the creation of separate municipal school districts, Orgel also talked about some possibilities for negotiations with those school districts for what are now county school system buildings.

“It doesn’t make sense for our community to go out and build a bunch of new buildings. We still have – let’s call it 150,000 students – we still have 10,000 teachers. It’s just going to be redistributed because of the vote,” he said of the six sets of referendums last week on forming municipal school districts. “The possibility exists that inside some of these municipalities you could have a school that is a Shelby County school but it’s in the Germantown city limits and the kids go there.”

Germantown is more than a random choice for an example. The three public schools bearing the name Germantown -- elementary, middle and high school -- have a majority of students who don’t live within the city limits of Germantown. Should the number of students in a Germantown municipal school district who live in the Germantown city limits grow, those Germantown students would take priority in the municipal school district over children who don’t live within Germantown.

If the school buildings become the property of the Germantown municipal school district that would mean the consolidated Shelby County school system might have to build new schools for the displaced students near their former schools.

“You might have a case where Shelby County Schools now run by John Aitken says: ‘These 400 kids, it doesn’t make sense for you to have a school for them. Why doesn’t Shelby County continue to educate them?’”

Such a cooperative agreement could conceivably leave a Germantown municipal school board in charge of the education of the students but would make the consolidated school system the provider of that education and the consolidated school system would remain the owner of the school buildings.

Orgel also expressed hope that board member Raphael McInnis, defeated in last week’s school board races, might be reappointed by the Shelby County Commission to the board for another year.

McInnis was defeated by David Reaves, a member of the old Shelby County Schools board. That leaves a vacancy in Reaves’ position.

McInnis, a regulatory affairs specialist for Medtronic, has been working on details of the buildings transfer issues and other technical questions leading up to the schools merger.

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