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VOL. 127 | NO. 119 | Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Countywide School Board To Discuss Future Supt.

By Bill Dries

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When countywide school board members resume a still-preliminary discussion Tuesday, June 19, about who should be superintendent of the merged public school system to come, they will have another opinion to consider.


In approving the first draft of a merger plan last week, the schools consolidation planning commission recommended the board pick a merger superintendent as soon as possible – no later than the end of the fall.


In adopting the position, the planning commission had its own debate about how the school board should go about making the choice before ultimately deciding it is up to the school board.

The planning commission sidestepped the volatile question of “how” that the school board is likely to begin discussing publicly in detail starting Tuesday.

Planning commission chairwoman Barbara Prescott was among those in the majority who argued the important recommendation from the group is that the board do it as quickly as possible.

“To begin to migrate to the one district, there needs to be one person to look to,” she said. “At any time past the early fall … it will really retard the effort of doing the very hard work. We think we’ve had the hard work. Our job is nothing – nothing – compared to the hard work of these districts.”

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell went further.

“I think we have missed our golden opportunity already – and that was to start this process six months ago,” he said. “We didn’t do it for any variety of reasons.”

Several months ago, the planning commission decided not to go beyond calling for the selection of a superintendent. The body voted down a multi-part resolution that included a call for the school board to make Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken the head of the merged school system for the first two school years of consolidation.

Last week, no one suggested who the school board should pick. But Luttrell was the most vocal of several on the commission who suggested the board needs to yield as soon as possible to an administrative leader for the transition.

“The reality of it is that when you plan to do something new and innovative, you establish your leadership first to carry through the plan. I accept that the school board is the legislative governing body in many ways,” Luttrell said adding that public perception is that the superintendents run the school system.

Luttrell added the public recognizes the names Kriner Cash and John Aitken and probably school board members Martavius Jones and David Pickler. But probably the public knows little else about the board, he said.

“The school board does not run the school system. It’s the superintendents. And the school board establishes the policies and procedures,” Luttrell said. “It’s not the school board that’s going to make this transition succeed. It will be the superintendent and the leadership that the superintendent puts in place. And he needs to be making those selections now.”

Planning commissioner Jim Boyd suggested the group recommend a national search for a superintendent. Luttrell accepted the amendment until others in the group including Jones and Pickler said the method of selecting a consolidation superintendent should rest with the school board alone.

Beyond that the two board members who also serve on the planning commission parted company.

Pickler sees a greater sense of urgency than Jones does.

Jones agrees it needs to be soon. But he says it should wait until after school board elections and suburban referendums on forming municipal school districts on the Aug. 2 ballot.

Jones maintains there is a big difference between selecting a superintendent now and selecting one after the votes are counted Aug. 2.

“I don’t think we can ignore the fact that we could potentially have school board members who are no longer part of the school board setting the direction of what in essence would be Memphis City Schools plus the unincorporated parts of Shelby County,” he said.

Jones “thanked” the changes made by the Tennessee Legislature earlier this year to the Norris-Todd state law governing the schools merger for making the situation more complex. He also warned that the selection of a superintendent could be delayed as some seek “clarity from the courts” on the mechanics of a merger and who makes the decisions.

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