VOL. 127 | NO. 116 | Thursday, June 14, 2012
Mtg. Could Produce Schools Draft
By Bill Dries
The group drafting the blueprint for the merged Shelby County public school system will go longer than its normal two-hour session Thursday, June 14.
Members of the schools consolidation planning commission listen to a presentation about Shelby County Schools at a past meeting.
(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)
The 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. session is an important milestone for the schools consolidation planning commission that began its work in September.
The planning commission will take a series of votes on different parts of the plan the group has considered in pieces as they have arrived from different working groups.
They have included education experts from the still-separate Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools as well as local government leaders and financial experts. Some of the working groups have been larger than the commission itself.
The group’s meeting is expected to end with a rough draft of a total plan for the merged school system that begins classes in August 2013. There probably will be some fine-tuning between Thursday’s meeting and a scheduled June 26 presentation of the draft to the countywide school board. A June 28 presentation to state education officials is also planned.
The plan that emerges must be approved by the countywide school board and the state commissioner of education. The approval is expected to follow a detailed review. Most of the general concepts of the plan have already been presented and tentatively approved.
From those actions, a portrait of a much different school system than either the existing city or county systems has emerged.
The new system up for a final review to the first draft Thursday would be a decentralized system that works to enable different types of schools either through running them as conventional school directly or through what the group has referred to as “multiple paths to autonomy.”
The multiple paths include but are not limited to charter schools and schools run by the state – charter and others – through the Achievement School District. Both types of schools would exist even if there was no merger taking place in Shelby County.
The tentative plan would divide Shelby County into six education subregions in which conventional schools would operate and some of those schools could have some form of autonomy as well.
Some planning commissioners have talked of eliminating the subregions system of area superintendents and staffs as a way of balancing the revenues and the expenses of the system to come. The group had whittled down but not closed the gap between the two with recommendations to outsource transportation of students and sell the existing Shelby County Schools bus fleet as well as outsourcing custodial services and closing 21 schools.
The planning commission balanced revenues and expenses earlier this month with $54 million more in cuts to its emerging plan with what it termed “a reluctant contingency plan.”
At least going into Thursday’s meeting, the planning commission has been building a school system that takes in the county’s six suburban towns and cities. Voters in all six of those towns and cities are set to vote on Aug. 2 on forming separate municipal school districts that would not be part of the consolidated school system.
Depending on the outcome of those ballot questions, planning commissioners have said they could adjust their draft to compensate for fewer students.
But the election results on the ballot questions could leave some uncertainties. The suburban voters will be voting on forming school systems that are within the borders of their respective towns and cities with the school-age population within those borders.
The plan being pursued by leaders in each of those municipalities, however, envision school systems that would each include some portion of students in unincorporated Shelby County to essentially allow students in the county outside Memphis to attend the same schools they currently attend at least initially.
However, including students who live in those unincorporated areas would require a later agreement between the new municipal district’s school board and the countywide school board.