Time Running Out for Real Decisions on Schools

Saturday, January 12, 2013, Vol. 6, No. 3

Change is nothing new for parents when it comes to education. School attendance zone boundaries change as schools fill up or empty out. Teachers and principals who make a difference retire or move. Schools get new programs with teachers and leaders coming in who start to make a difference.

Given that constant turmoil, it is a wonder there haven’t been more rumors about the coming merger of Shelby County’s two public school systems in August 2013.

But less than eight months from the opening of the merged school district in early August 2013, parents should have more answers in the way of decisions by the school board and a single superintendent should be calling the shots.

Parents are now picking up applications for optional schools and other open enrollment options at a time when there has never been more competition and choices for parents via the Achievement School District and charter schools.

More choices and competition are on the way as the Tennessee legislature awaits what is expected to be a comprehensive charter schools bill. There will also be legislation on school vouchers.

Competition in education is here. It’s been here for a while. And the single consolidated school system in Shelby County is losing in that competition with every week that goes by without real decisions and movement being made on the merger.

If you live in Memphis and you voted for the merger in March 2012, this is not what you voted for and what passed by a majority vote.

As our cover story shows, parents seem to be accepting the idea that the school board is not about to mess with most school assignments or teachers and staff. However, the board will have to make some decisions before next August about school assignments in Cordova in particular where the line that separates city school from county school vanishes when classes open for the new school year.

If there is one area that the board should pick out of a maddeningly slow process and put ahead of other decisions, it is what to do in Cordova. Parents there deserve the same imprecise certainty other parents have.

County schools parents in the six suburban towns and cities are in for the first year of the merger.

But if at the end of the year state laws permitting municipal school districts in the suburbs are still on the books, they will probably start the process of forming those school districts all over again.

It is also important to note that they won’t be the only ones leaving the system of conventional schools. Choice and competition would be facts of life even if no merger was taking place. In our case, they will be a verdict on whether a school board almost the size of the State Senate with three sets of overlapping district lines got the merger right.