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VOL. 128 | NO. 234 | Monday, December 2, 2013

Commission to Consider Schools Agreements

By Bill Dries

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As the Thanksgiving holiday weekend began, Germantown’s still-forming municipal school district was the only suburban school system in Shelby County without an agreement in principle with Shelby County Schools.

Talks between Germantown leaders and Shelby County Schools were expected to resume this week as the Shelby County Commission meets in special session Monday, Dec. 2, at 1 p.m. to vote on agreements with Bartlett, Collierville and Millington on their school systems.

Shelby County Schools board members approved the agreements Tuesday, Nov. 26, as well as quitclaim deeds for the transfer of all but one of the school buildings within the borders of the three suburban cities.

The exception was Lucy Elementary School in Millington, which Shelby County Schools will continue to operate under terms of the specific Millington agreement approved by the board Tuesday.

Millington agrees to pay $2.7 million over 12 years to Shelby County Schools. It gets four of the five public schools within its borders via quitclaim deed for $10 in an agreement that allows all sides to say the agreement isn’t a straight-up exchange of money for school buildings. Each of the agreements includes the Shelby County Commission dropping that suburban city from the ongoing federal lawsuit in which the commission is contesting the creation of the suburban school districts.

Collierville agrees to pay $6 million over 12 years. It gets all of the school buildings within its borders via quitclaim deed for $10.

Bartlett agrees to pay $7.2 million over 12 years. It gets all of the public school buildings within its borders via quitclaim deed for $10.

The three agreements also go to the respective boards of mayor and aldermen in each of city for approval as well as each city’s school board. The six school boards take office in December and a vote on the respective agreements will be among the first items each deals with.

On Lucy Elementary, Shelby County Schools attorney Valerie Speakman said Millington city leaders “raised a big objection but we held with what the board asked us to do.”

She also said Millington leaders had talked at one point of agreeing to continue educating students in nearby unincorporated Shelby County “in perpetuity.”

But Speakman added there were lots of legal complications to the idea of a permanent student attendance zone for a given school.

“There was a legal question on whether a school board can in perpetuity make student assignments,” she said. “We believe they cannot.”

The Shelby County Schools board’s position going into the private talks, with the recommendation of its superintendent, Dorsey Hopson, was that the system continue to operate Lucy Elementary, as well as Germantown Elementary, Middle and High Schools because of its obligation to educate students in the unincorporated county who currently attend schools in the suburban towns and cities.

In Millington’s case, the unincorporated areas were northeast and south of the Millington city limits that are in its annexation reserve.

“The ability for our school system to serve those (unincorporated) areas caused us to effectively have to skip over a large area of geography to serve those students,” Speakman said of allowing Lucy Elementary to become part of a Millington Schools system. “We felt it wasn’t fair to those students.”

The agreements for the three cities as well as earlier agreements with Arlington and Lakeland allow for open enrollment of students in the unincorporated areas in the suburban school systems if there is room.

But including students in the unincorporated areas in attendance zones for the suburban school systems presented legal problems that both sides in the sets of talks have acknowledged. The parents of those students would not have representation on the suburban schools boards.

If an area is annexed into Millington or one of the other suburban communities, Speakman said there could be renewed talks about changing boundaries.

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