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VOL. 127 | NO. 98 | Friday, May 18, 2012

Merged Schools Specifics Clear Another Hurdle

By Bill Dries

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Recommendations for the look of the new countywide school system cleared another set of hurdles Thursday, May 17. But the estimates of the cost of the different parts of the school system to come in August 2013 are still to come.

All of that is ahead of a scheduled June 14 vote on the entire draft plan. A final vote on the work would follow public comment and input sessions.

The schools consolidation planning commission approved several sets of recommendations Thursday that are steps on the way to final approval of a draft plan next month.

The recommendations include a superintendent’s office with nine cabinet members of division directors reporting directly to the superintendent.

School assignments for student would remain the same as they are now at the start of the merger with exceptions for school closings and new schools opening as well as the possibility of municipal school districts in some or all of the suburban municipalities.

The school district could provide support services such as transportation and building maintenance to charter schools, state-run schools as part of the Achievement School District and municipal school districts for a fee.

And the first come first serve system of applying for transfers to schools with a waiting list for available spots would be converted to a lottery system.

And the recommendations that are awaiting cost estimates from a finance committee for the first time put an approximate number on the schools that would fall into different categories of a school system with multiple paths to autonomy even within the six regions of the school district.

The estimate is the merger would start with 26 to 46 schools across the six regions – four in the city, one for northern Shelby County outside Memphis and one for southeastern Shelby County outside Memphis. Some of those schools could be innovation zone schools including seven city schools designated by the state just this month as innovation schools with accompanying state funding over five years starting next school year.

The merged school district would include an office of innovation to supervise those schools.

There would be 35-45 charter schools operating under contract with the unified school district.

And there would be 12 in the state run Achievement School District.

The planning commission also advanced a set of goals for the first four years of the merger including a 90 percent graduation rate and 60 percent of students ready for post secondary education. Other goals include expanding pre-kindergarten for to an additional 2,000 to 3,000 four-year olds. The goal includes using a single standard for judging the readiness of pre-k students who attend the pre-k classes across several different programs including Head Start. And the planning commission included the goal of doubling the number of students taking at least one advanced placement course.

The more specific the goals get, the more explanation they require. Planning commissioner Tommy Hart questioned the goal of 60 percent of students ready for post secondary education but another goal of 25 percent of all students being college ready as defined by an ACT test score of 21 or higher. Others in the group said it is a difference in standards by which those ready for post secondary education may get into college but not meet the higher ACT score.

The state of Tennessee has a similar goal of 24 percent being ACT ready for college and 62 percent ready for post secondary enrollment.

PROPERTY SALES 106 212 6,230
MORTGAGES 111 232 6,953
BUILDING PERMITS 88 304 13,617
BANKRUPTCIES 46 168 4,261