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VOL. 127 | NO. 214 | Thursday, November 01, 2012

Merger, Superintendent Process Set

By Bill Dries

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Countywide school board members will begin what several described as the “dirty work” of the schools merger at a special meeting Nov. 15.

WHALUM

At that meeting, the board will vote on many if not all of the recommendations from the consolidation planning commission that ended its work in July.

WISSMAN

The special meeting kicks off a timeline brought to the board by Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash and Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken for the move to the August merger in three phases.

Cash and Aitken also said they want to hire a consulting firm to help with project management and ease some of the burden on administrators from both systems.

The two firms they are considering are Boston Consulting Group, the consultant group that worked with the consolidation planning commission, and Parthenon, the consultant group that worked with Memphis City Schools on its Teacher Effectiveness Initiative.

Cash said the superintendents have talked with several private foundations who have offered to raise up to $4 million to pay the costs for which firm is hired.

Some on the board questioned whether the money might come with conditions.

“They’ve stated that it will be hard to raise that much money if we don’t get busy and start implementing the plan and doing it as close to fidelity as the plan indicates,” Cash said of the donors. “We pushed back a bit and said this now is the board’s work. … We’ve been clear about that as a staff.”

Cash and Aitken had originally intended to have the school board vote on three “bundles” of merger recommendations. And the board voted on the first bundle of 19 non-controversial recommendations in September but missed the October bundle. The recommendations were made by the consolidation planning commission established under state law for such a consolidation process.

Cash said that is a realization that the set of 172 recommendations are connected – “a large menagerie, in a quilt-like fashion” and many can’t be voted on separately.

“We’re going to have to get down and dirty,” he said. “The dirt is coming real soon.” Cash also said the decisions will be political in nature.

That means the Nov. 15 session will likely be lengthy and draw a large crowd – so large school board member Diane George suggested FedExForum as a possible venue.

Parents of students in the CLUE and other gifted student programs filled the school board’s large meeting room Tuesday evening along with teachers as they pushed for a continuation of the gifted student programs in the merger.

A decision on that wasn’t on the agenda.

“To me it appears that we are treating this decision like any other decision and not acknowledging that this is unlike any other time,” school board member Tomeka Hart said of the coming recommendations. “This has to be a different level of decision making.”

School board member Mike Wissman, however, said the board appears reluctant to act on the plan in any way.

“This board has been asked time and time again to tackle the tough issues,” he said. “Every time we try to tackle them, we wind up in a conversation like this – not getting anywhere. We have to make decisions and every time we try to make decisions, nobody wants to make them.”

School board member Kenneth Whalum Jr. agreed with Wissman.

“People watching and listening are saying somebody up there doesn’t want to vote on those recommendations,” he said. “Man, let’s vote. … We could have voted on 15 tonight.”

Meanwhile, the board accepted a plan to conduct a national search using a search firm for the merger superintendent. The timeline for the search is to have a superintendent selected by mid-February including a negotiated contract. Cash and Aitken will now put out a request for proposal seeking specifications from search firms.

The school board voted down an amendment by board member David Reaves that would have made the search local instead of national.

School board member Jeff Warren said Cash and Aitken are eligible to apply in the national search.

“If we don’t do a national search, I’m afraid what we will do is cut their legs from under them,” Warren said of a local search that ends with Cash or Aitken as the merger superintendent. He said something less than a national search would give the appearance of favoritism.

Wissman said a national search is the same thing as telling Cash and Aitken that they won’t get the job.

“If we’re going to sit here and try to appease a crowd and do a search for a dog and pony show, that is really disheartening for these two gentlemen,” he said. “We’re slapping them in the face.”

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