County Commission Debates Schools Changes on Several Fronts

By Bill Dries

Shelby County Commissioners who just last week seemed to agree on giving Memphis City Schools teachers living outside Shelby County five years to move within the county had some second thoughts Monday, Feb. 11, as they debated the schools merger issue.

The commission ultimately voted to exempt MCS teachers hired by the school system before Sept. 1, 1986 – when the county charter residency requirement that applies to Shelby County Schools teachers took effect. And they approved a five year “grace period” for others living outside the county and hired after Sept. 1, 1986 to move within the county.

The first of three readings of the amended ordinance passed Monday.

Meanwhile, the commission sent back to committee a resolution to transfer $300,000 from the commission’s contingency fund to pay anticipated legal fees from the ongoing schools lawsuit in federal court.

The delay in approving the transfer came two years to the day that the multi-part lawsuit was filed in Memphis Federal Court by the Shelby County Board of Education.

County Commissioner Wyatt Bunker attempted to add a resolution on Monday’s agenda instructing the board’s attorneys to drop the part of the lawsuit contesting the establishment of municipal school districts.

The attempt to suspend the rules to add the item was defeated. But Bunker said he will introduce the item in committee sessions next week with an eye toward getting it on the commission’s Feb. 25 agenda.

Before Monday’s commission meeting, leaders of municipal schools district groups in Germantown, Collierville and Bartlett called on the commission to drop its part of the federal court lawsuit.

The groups cited tentative budget plans that include laying off 443 to 377 school teachers and other staff if the merged school district moves to larger teacher-pupil ratios and spreading teaching assistants and similar staff out over larger numbers of students.

Countywide school board members meet Tuesday in special session and are expected to get some revised budget numbers from their staff.

In other action, the commission approved plans to appoint a Probate Court Judge to replace the retiring Judge Robert Benham.

Benham retires at the end of March and the commission will take applications up to March 27 when the body will interview applicants. The commission is scheduled to make its appointment at its April 1 meeting.

Commissioner Chris Thomas said retired Probate Court Judge Donn Southern has expressed an interest in being interim judge to serve until the 2014 judicial elections when the office will be on the ballot that features the once-every-eight-years judicial races.