School Board To Meet On Merger Recommendations Next Month

By Bill Dries

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

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.

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 2013 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.

In other action, the board approved a resolution backing the half cent countywide sales tax hike on the Nov. 6 ballot.

And the board approved a process for picking a superintendent that includes a national search conducted by a search firm. The goal of the process is for the school board to select and negotiate a contract with a superintendent by mid February.

Meanwhile, Cash talked of what could be a second front in the clash between local school systems and the Haslam administration over charter schools.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman sent a letter to the school board and Cash earlier this month, saying the state wants charter school providers to be paid for new students they enroll this year instead of later.

Cash told school board members he doesn’t believe that is an accurate interpretation of state law.

“It veers from the philosophy of the money follows the child,” Cash said, referring to the state education funding that comes through the school system to the charter operators. “It is not what state law currently says. … We have to make sure that we make a reasoned response in this matter.”

Earlier this year, Huffman, with Haslam’s backing, withheld $3 million in state funding for Metro Nashville Schools when that school board rejected a charter school application the state ordered it to accept. The school board is considering a lawsuit against the state over the issue.

And Memphis City Schools officials formally opened Tuesday a new STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – Academy at East High School.

The laboratory is open to students across the district who take a virtual curriculum starting in the ninth grade. It has 150 students from 20 Memphis City Schools currently.