Schools Begin Front Office Layoff Process

By Bill Dries

When Shelby County’s two public school systems went to a single superintendent in March, interim superintendent Dorsey Hopson emphasized that his first priority is a budget proposal later this month for the school system that merges formally with the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

And Hopson has always followed that immediately with the certainty that the budget will reflect some hard decisions starting with a 26 percent cut in the central office of the single public school system that begins classes on Aug. 5.

Last week, Hopson sent letters to those in the central offices of both school systems saying they will all have to reapply for their jobs. More than 200 jobs will likely be lost in the transition to the merger.

It’s a difficult point in the merger that all of those at that level of management knew would come at some point.

Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken acknowledged it before his departure, saying some of those who had worked the hardest on the transition would likely be among those out of work as a result of their work and the merger.

Meanwhile, the other critical decisions of the merger are still in flux. The countywide school board voted to outsource custodial services but also decided to rebid the contract after declining to award it to the company that the schools administration recommended.

The school board voted last month to close four schools effective next school year, but Hopson has said he is willing to explore and believes the school board should consider closing more.

There has been no board decision yet on outsourcing transportation services for students.

Those were the decisions identified by the consolidation planning commission as its most critical recommendations to the school board when it submitted its set of 172 recommendations last August.

Hopson has an aggressive list of items he wants to accomplish in addition to getting board decisions on the remaining recommendations. That could include at least talks with City Hall on some payment of $57 million the city was ordered to pay in two state court decisions. Payment has been delayed by the courts because of a counterclaim for upward of $140 million by the city against Memphis City Schools.

“My sense is that the city wants to resolve it,” Hopson said last month, adding that any future discussions should include not only Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. but the Memphis City Council as well.

“It is really an issue of we need to all sit down at the table,” Hopson added. “It would be nice to reach some agreement and have at least some of the money from the settlement coming in. … We proposed about a three-year payment plan.”

Meanwhile, the board’s search for a permanent merger superintendent has blown two deadlines with a still-tentative goal of hiring and having a superintendent under contract sometime in June.

Hopson has said he is not interested in the position long term. He came to the interim position from being general counsel to Memphis City Schools in 2008.

PROACT, the superintendent search consulting firm, held a set of public input sessions that are part of the search process all on one day, April 4, in the Memphis City Schools auditorium.

It is that requirement for public hearings that has pushed back the timeline for hiring a permanent superintendent twice so far. The public hearings began in March, but the first two were poorly attended so board members discussed briefly last month holding even more hearings.

Those are public hearings in addition to ones the board held on the school closings and was required to under its policy for closing Memphis City Schools.

The school board spent more time talking about the brochure that those interested in the job of superintendent will get.

School board member Martavius Jones thought photos from the annual Africa in April festival should be included because photos from other local festivals were shown.

“Removing the picture and the reference, I think, sort of takes away from the total picture of it,” he said. “There were other festivals that were not removed.”

School board chairman Billy Orgel pointed out the brochure incorrectly said the movie “The Blind Side” was filmed in Memphis.

School board member Freda Williams wanted all board members with doctorates listed with the title Dr.

“It seems like it’s trying to sell Memphis,” school board member Diane George added as the discussion continued. “We’re trying to get a superintendent. I think some of this is micro managing. Come on, guys.”