School Board to Begin Merger Votes Next Week

By Bill Dries

Countywide school board members should begin voting up or down the first recommendations of the schools consolidation planning commission at their Thursday, Sept. 27, meeting.

The recommendations are the blueprint for how the merged school system will operate leading up to and past the merger start date of August 2013.

The board approved Tuesday, Sept. 18, a resolution sponsored by board member Kenneth Whalum Jr. to “begin the process of reviewing, approving or rejecting the (planning commission’s) merger plan … with the expert advice of the transition steering committee.”

The steering committee is a group of six top administrators from both of Shelby County’s public school systems who have been reviewing the set of 172 recommendations sent to the school board by the planning commission at the beginning of August.

“I just think it’s our first official barometer to see where this board stands,” Whalum said. “Even if staff only recommends that we deal with one or two, we start. I just think it’s very important to start. We may not get very much done at all. But I just think its important to communicate that.”

The steering committee is expected to have many of its recommendations including those on the planning commission recommendations to close up to 20 schools and outsource custodial and transportation services by the board’s October business meeting.

Those three recommendations are expected to be the most discussed of the planning commission recommendations. They are also the most critical to a funding gap between revenues and expenses for the merged school system that the planning commission puts at $57 million if the school board includes those three recommendations.

If the board doesn’t the gap goes higher, according to planning commissioners. But the steering committee is expected to differ with the planning commission’s estimate of savings from the three measures.

Next week’s school board meeting was moved from Tuesday to Thursday for the observance of Yom Kippur.

In other action, the school board re-elected Billy Orgel as chairman of the 23-member body for another year. Orgel won by one vote over rival nominee Teresa Jones. Jones was elected vice chairman for the next year succeeding Jeff Warren in the position.