Cash Puts Five Elementary Schools On List For Closing Consideration

By Bill Dries

Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash is proposing the countywide school board consider closing five elementary schools and turn Humes Middle School over to the state-run Achievement School District.

Cash told school board members Monday, Nov. 26, in a letter that he and his staff will propose “school impact” studies and submit the list of schools for review when the board meets in special session Thursday.

Here are the tentative closure plans that would depend on the outcome of a board vote that would follow a set of public hearings and the studies.

Coro Lake Elementary School would close with its 165 students moved to Double Tree Elementary and Westwood Elementary.

White’s Chapel Elementary would close with its 181 students attending Westwood Elementary.

Orleans Elementary’s 169 students would be transferred to Lincoln Elementary.

Norris Elementary would close with its 191 students going to Hamilton Elementary.

Gordon Elementary would close with its 398 students split between Carnes Elementary and Guthrie-Caldwell Elementary. Gordon is currently home to an Achievement School District school within the conventional school. Guthrie-Caldwell is among 14 schools leaders of the state-run school district are considering for inclusion in their district with the new school year that begins in August.

Humes Middle School, under Cash’s proposal, would be considered for the Achievement School District. With 190 students, Humes has a 17 percent utilization rate. Humes is not among the 14 schools the Achievement School District is considering for a list of 10 schools it plans to either run directly or run through a contract with a charter school operator next school year.

But Memphis City Schools administrators are considering a proposal to turn Humes into a grades 6-12 charter school focused on the arts.

Cash noted the list of schools he is submitting for consideration is not as large as the 21 recommended by the schools consolidation planning commission. The planning commission did not include a specific list of the schools it proposed for closing “in order to give the Shelby County Board of Education flexibility in selection with input from the community,” according to the recommendation sent to the school board this summer.

It is one of 172 recommendations for the move up to and into the merger of city and county schools that begins with the new school year in August.

The recommendation, in general, calls for: closing six schools in northwest Memphis – three elementary schools, one middle school and two high schools and closing 15 in southwest Memphis – seven elementary, six middle and two high schools.

“We will present a listing of schools on Thursday evening that will be considerably fewer than the 20 unnamed schools recommended for closure by the (planning commission),” Cash wrote. “Any vote taken on Thursday night will only begin the process of conducting the impact studies and the series of community meetings in just the same manner as was done last year. No schools will be closed on Thursday night.”

The process of studies and public hearings in the affected communities is one Memphis City Schools has used for the closing of Georgia Avenue Elementary and the consolidation of Caldwell and Guthrie Elementary Schools in recent years.

“We know that, done right, the process works,” Cash said.

The planning commission recommendations were based on utilization rates of the schools – the number of students attending a school and the number of students a school has the capacity to hold.

The school impact studies to be conducted by school system staff would look at other factors including “impact on the quality of life in the community” and “time, distance and cost of student transportation.”

Cash’s preliminary estimate is that the closings of Coro Lake and White’s Chapel would not require any new buses for those students. The closings of Norris and Gordon would require three new buses each with two new buses for the Orleans closing.

Cash has acknowledged for years that Memphis City Schools in the inner city and the western part of the city as a whole are losing students in a school age population shift to the east. He and his staff had come up with a list of under utilized schools for consideration that Cash took off the table as the schools consolidation question began to move to a Memphis referendum vote in late 2010 and early 2011.

The planning commission recommendation is a controversial one and a key one in terms of the millions of dollars the commission believed it would save the new consolidated school system.

But Cash and his staff have publicly differed with the savings estimates of Boston Consulting Group, technical advisers to the planning commission.