School Board Votes Down Adding Merger Delay Resolutions

By Bill Dries

The countywide school board voted down two attempts to add resolutions to its agenda Monday, Feb. 18, including one seeking a year’s extension of the Aug. 2013 schools merger start date and another seeking to slow movement but not stop it toward the merger date.

The first proposal by school board member Tomeka Hart would have instructed attorneys for the school system to go to Memphis Federal Court and “take measures to seek an extension of the merger date.”

Hart, who was among the early proponents of the merger, said she sought the extension because legal claims and counter claims involving suburban municipal school districts beyond the basic question of the merger remain unresolved.

In her resolution, she said those unresolved questions make a merger by Aug. 5 “imprudent and could lead to a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

The motion to add the item to Monday’s agenda was voted down 6-11 with six other board members absent.

School board member Patrice Robinson got three more votes in favor of her bid to add a resolution to the agenda that would have drawn out but not stopped the merger process.

“My sentiment is not to stop the merger process but to do things that are necessary by law,” she said. The staff is doing too many things now. … I believe we need to slow the process down. I do not mean to stop the merger. I just mean to slow down the process.”

Her bid to add the item to the agenda garnered nine votes to 10 votes against adding it, meaning it too didn’t make the agenda.

Robinson did succeed in adding an item setting up a process to gather public input for what to call the consolidated school district, a goal Robinson sought to pursue at the beginning of the move to the 23-member transitional school board in Oct., 2011.

The item advances to the Tuesday, Feb. 26, school board meeting for a vote.

But it likely faces an uphill fight given some of the remarks from other board members.

Robinson argued that she wasn’t suggesting a name, just a process to involve the public.

“I think the community is pretty engaged,” school board member Mike Wissman countered. “We have so many other issues going on right now.”

School board member Sarah Lewis argued the school system’s name should include Memphis and not convert to Shelby County Schools automatically.

“Memphis City Schools is coming into this with many more students,” she said. “Just to discount that it ever existed – that is very hurtful. … I think it is morally wrong and sends a wrong message to the children.”

In other action, interim Memphis City Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson said leaders of the Achievement School District have approached him about making Humes Middle School a part of the state-run district for the state’s bottom five percent schools in terms of student achievement.

The school board voted last year to close Humes at the end of the current school year and reopen it next year as Bravo Academy -- an optional school for the musical arts operated by the consolidated school district.

Hopson said ASD superintendent Chris Barbic has told him the Achievement School District takes the position that because Humes will reopen, it remains in the bottom five percent and eligible for inclusion in the ASD.

Memphis City Schools cannot veto the choice of a low performing school for the Achievement School District. But the two entities have negotiated and talked over their tentative plans to try to coordinate what they are doing as much as possible.

Hopson mentioned the possibility of the ASD using a part of the school built to hold over 1,300 students for its purposes as the consolidated school system opens its optional school using another part of the building.

Memphis City Schools and the ASD have such co-location agreements at Gordon Elementary and Cypress Middle Schools.

Former MCS superintendent Kriner Cash indicated the Achievement School District originally wanted Humes instead of Gordon. But Cash negotiated for the school system to keep Humes because of what Cash cited as the heritage of the school which has been a high school and a junior high school in the days when the school system had only a handful of high schools and the city had not yet expanded into suburban areas.

Hopson plans to present a detailed report on the matter at next week’s voting meeting of the school board.

Meanwhile, the board has a new timeline for hiring a merger superintendent that puts the hiring in late May instead of mid February, the original goal of the school board.

School board members reviewed and approved a proposed work plan with consultants from ProAct Search, the Wilmette, Ill. search firm the board hired to conduct a national search.

The work plan includes hiring a superintendent the third week of May with the field being narrowed to five to seven finalists by the fourth week in April.