School Board Takes Up Merger Issues Thursday

By Bill Dries

The countywide school board meets in special session Thursday, Jan. 10 to take up 10 more recommendations on the merger of Shelby County’s two public school systems.

The recommendations are the latest to go to the board from a steering committee composed of administrators from both school systems. The steering committee is making its recommendations on the set of merger recommendations made last August by a consolidation planning commission.

The 10 items for the school board Thursday include continuing to pay teachers extra for advanced degrees they have started working toward prior to August 2012 as long as they finish the degree by August 2014.

Otherwise, teachers who attain a degree after the August 2013 merger date will not be paid extra.

The other nine recommendations deal with benefits including no more subsidies for Medigap insurance for classified employees going forward and providing spouse coverage only for those spouses not eligible for their own health insurance.

The district’s percentage of health insurance costs would drop to the lower share paid by each of the two school districts at the merger date or 63 percent, which is what Shelby County Schools currently pay – whichever is lower.

Board approval of the recommendations is not a final action. It means the recommendations advance for consideration in the budget for the first year of the schools merger which the board will assemble later this year.

And school board members will vote Thursday on a $350,000 contract with The Parthenon Group, an education consulting firm, to expand the Memphis City Schools’ Teacher Effectiveness Initiative across the countywide school system with the August merger.

The Teacher Effectiveness Initiative is the teacher evaluation and professional development program Memphis City Schools garnered a $90 million multi-year grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop.

Consultants from The Parthenon Group have been working with both school systems since late last year on broadening the initiative to what are now county schools and adapting it to the consolidated school system.

“Given the rapidly changing merger environment, priorities have shifted even in this short time period, in ways that were not anticipated two months ago,” reads a confidential draft from Parthenon consultants to schools officials updated this month from a December 19 draft. “For example, less time to date has been allocated to job descriptions and hiring processes, and more time spent on budget preparations and ensuring cross-district buy-in and support for the strategic vision.”

Also on the agenda Thursday is a resolution to rename Humes Middle School as Bravo Academy starting next school year when the North Memphis school is converted to an optional school for the musical arts.