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VOL. 127 | NO. 124 | Tuesday, June 26, 2012

School Board Looks for Consensus

By Bill Dries

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After effectively ruling out Kriner Cash last week as the leader of the consolidated Shelby County school system, school board members now turn to a decision about how to select that superintendent.

Teresa Jones, from left, Raphael McInnis, Kevin Woods, Reginald Porter Jr. and board chairman Billy Orgel are among members of the countywide school board.

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)

The Tuesday, June 26, school board meeting will continue a discussion among the 23-member board that began over two meetings last week.

Those meetings showed a board grappling not only with reaching a consensus but its unwieldy size and opinions from other civic players in the drama.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell ran through the multiple options of a search, no search, local or national choices, or an interim local choice as a longer national search takes place.

And then he talked of another possibility – a superintendent from a business background.

“Finding someone that has the organizational skills for a large organization but has a passion for public education that can lead us through the transition while we do a nationwide search,” was how Luttrell described the option to the Memphis Rotary Club. “I’m very, very adamant that we have other options and we should look at all of the options.”

For all of the discussion about how to select a superintendent, some on and off the board are already counting votes – as in possible votes for Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken and possible votes for someone other than Aitken.

They are also trying to judge possible votes based on the three ways the 23 members came to be on the board. Nine are members of the old Memphis City Schools board, seven are members of the old Shelby County Schools board and seven were appointed to the board last year by the Shelby County Commission as the first step toward consolidation.

Determining committed votes isn’t going to be that easy until the board settles on a process.

School board member Reginald Porter Jr. noted that he voted for the Cash and Aitken non-renewal motions.

The only other board member to vote that way was Sara Lewis.

School board members Tomeka Hart and Vanecia Kimbrow were the only votes against both non-renewal motions.

Teresa Jones was the only one of the remaining seven board members appointed by the Shelby County Commission last year to vote against the Cash non-renewal and for the Aitken non-renewal.

The six other appointees voted for Cash’s non-renewal and against Aitken’s non-renewal along with two members of the former Memphis City Schools board – Jeff Warren and Betty Mallott and six of the seven members of the former Shelby County Schools board.

Diane George was the only member of the old Shelby County Schools board to vote against Cash’s non-renewal and for the non-renewal of Aitken.

She voted with Jones and four of the nine members of the old Memphis City Schools board members.

Board member Kenneth Whalum Jr. was absent from the June 19 meeting.

Picking a superintendent has been difficult and controversial for smaller boards.

The old Memphis City Schools board in particular mapped the high price in public sentiment a board can pay for a miscue.

The selection process that ended with Willie Herenton, a deputy superintendent, being named superintendent in 1979 included a majority on the nine-member board settling on another contender. That contender withdrew after the disclosure of a private meeting among white board members ignited sentiment for Herenton.

And a growing consensus on the same board a decade later for Herenton’s exit also took an emotional turn with Herenton backers packing the board meetings for months. Herenton supporters not only backed him, they spent hours lining up to speak to the board and berate it for even considering replacing him.

Herenton’s negotiated exit came later after the public furor subsided and buyout negotiations began under the cloak of attorney-client privilege.

But it touched off a scramble among those who worked just under Herenton on the management chart and ended with the board picking the first in a series of three superintendents from outside the school district and the state.

Herenton didn’t indicate a favorite among them and years later said he didn’t because he didn’t consider any of them to be “No. 1 material.”

Past deputy superintendents Johnnie Watson and Dan Ward who had worked under Herenton served as interim superintendents between the tenures of Gerry House, Carol Johnson and Cash.

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