Commission to Vote on Teacher Residency

By Bill Dries

Shelby County Commissioners agree on an issue having to do with the coming merger of schools in Shelby County.

At least nine of the 13 commissioners favor giving Memphis City Schools teachers and other system staff who live outside Shelby County five years to move within the county and keep their jobs with the new consolidated school system that takes effect July 1.

The commission votes Monday, Feb. 11, on the first of three readings of an ordinance that would use the five-year period to bridge the gap between Memphis City Schools, which has no residency policy and Shelby County Schools, who come under a Shelby County charter provision that requires employees to live within the county.


The commission meets at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building, 160 N. Main St.

In a 2008 charter amendment approved by voters countywide, the commission has the power to grant exemptions for select groups of employees to the residency requirement.

But in committee sessions Wednesday, Feb. 6, most commissioners said they didn’t want to do that.

The likelihood of cuts in school system staffing with the merger fueled the discussion.

“What you’re telling me is basically we can fire teachers that live here and are paying taxes and people that live in DeSoto County can get the jobs and they don’t contribute,” Commissioner Terry Roland said of an initial proposal by Commissioner Walter Bailey to grandfather in city schools employees who now live outside Shelby County but require any new employees hired after July 1 to live within the county.

“In my opinion it would be hypocritical to grandfather someone in and give them a privilege that the other 8,000 employees do not get,” Roland said.

And Bailey agreed.

“I’m basically a stickler for residency requirements. … I deplore seeing people who live outside urban areas … want to use the resources in our urban areas for employment and yet don’t think the urban area is adequate or sufficient enough for them to do their dwelling,” Bailey said. “I think it’s too draconian to say instantly you’re off the payroll. ... I think five years is a fair and equitable approach to this.”

Commissioner Heidi Shafer first mentioned the five-year time period and Commissioner Chris Thomas moved it as an amendment. Bailey later withdrew his original proposal in favor of the amendment.

“We agree on this and this is a school issue and that happens so rarely,” Shafer said.

Commission chairman Mike Ritz began the discussion saying he didn’t think it was fair to change conditions of employment after someone is hired. He also tried to urge the commission to avoid framing the issue in the coming decision on how to fund the first schools merger budget.

“All we do is approve the amount of money we give them and I don’t think it’s appropriate to use this situation to beat up a bunch of employees and I think that’s what would happen if we don’t vote for this matter,” Ritz said. “I think it’s a punishment of people who work for MCS not to do this. I’m not going there. It’s not their fault that their leaders decided to do what they did.”

“Who brought this up to start with?” Roland replied. “It wasn’t Terry Roland. Don’t pull that political card on me, Commissioner Ritz. Y’all started this political mess.”

Ritz and Roland were among those who embraced the compromise later.

Meanwhile, Ritz sent a memo to each county elected official the next day requesting a report on the residence of every employee in his or her office since the residency requirement was added to the Shelby County Charter.

And Ritz wants the county’s Human Resources division to double check the addresses of every current employee hired since the charter change. He is also requesting the same residency check of Shelby County Schools employees.

“Since the subject of residency requirements for MCS employees has come up, I am hearing reports of employees hired by the County Sheriff, other elected officials, and the school board in violation of the charter,” Ritz wrote. “We can’t expect MCS employees to abide (by) a policy we don’t enforce for our own employees.”

Ritz also said he may seek a formal request from the County Commission as a body for those elected officials who do not respond.