Election Aftermath

Municipalities weigh next moves for school districts

By Bill Dries

At least one suburban leader wants to explore the idea of a shared superintendent for several of the municipal school districts to come.

Rachel Seaton, with daughters Katelyn, 2, and Hallie, 7, casts a ballot at Collierville Church of Christ in the municipal school district election.

(Daily News/Lance Murphey)

Arlington Mayor Mike Wissman raised the possibility the day after voters in all six suburban cities and towns approved in special elections the formation of separate suburban school systems.

“I think Arlington and Lakeland do have a strong commitment to try to share a superintendent and/or central office if possible. That’s something we’ve been talking about all along,” Wissman said, talking specifically about former Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken. “I think if somehow there was a way to choose John Aitken as a superintendent, or someone like John, I don’t think Arlington or Lakeland would be as apprehensive as maybe some of the other ones would be in doing that.”

His comments demonstrate the different paths the towns and cities are likely to take in building their school systems. And he acknowledged not all suburban leaders think a common suburban superintendent is possible or something they want to pursue.

But Wissman added that attorneys he has consulted have said it is possible.

“That’s the pretense we’re going under that we can move forward in that direction,” he said. “You can’t use your principal as a superintendent. You have to have someone dedicated as a superintendent. It doesn’t mean that superintendent cannot work in other areas also. For a lot of us it makes sense.”

Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald had indicated even before the referendum elections that Bartlett probably wasn’t interested in such a scenario even if it was legally permissible.

As for talks about shared services in general, McDonald agreed there are differences in how important that is depending on the size of the suburban cities and towns.

“There may be some discussions going on between some of the other cities in a more fervent way,” McDonald said.

“I’m not having any. I’m still focused on the goal of local control. That being said, certainly it would be wise for us or the new school board when they are elected to consider in terms of cost and efficiency what they might be able to share in either with the unified system or with one of the other suburban systems.”

“Maybe the buildings aren’t as much of an issue if there’s some agreement on shared services. It’s going to take each individual system to see what they need.”

–Arlington Mayor Mike Wissman

Ken Hoover, a backer of the Germantown school district who ran for and was elected to the Germantown school board last year before the election results were voided in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, is anxious to see talks get underway on issues like county schools buildings in the municipalities.

“I hope that we see rapid progress in the building discussions, now that the referendum is behind us,” he said.

The discussions about how to turn over school buildings may not be as contentious as some expect especially if there are agreements for the use of the building without resolving at least immediately who owns them.

“Maybe the buildings aren’t as much of an issue if there’s some agreement on shared services. It’s going to take each individual system to see what they need,” Wissman said. “Bartlett and Germantown are fully functional communities. ...

“Some of the communities want to be totally self-sufficient where some of us don’t have a problem with sharing services or relying on others. That’s where it’s going to be on a case-by-case situation in my personal opinion.”

Wissman said attorneys representing the Shelby County Commission and the suburban leaders have talks scheduled later this month that are a follow-up to some very preliminary discussions before the referendums.

“Now that the vote has happened and we are official, hopefully there will be some recognition amongst the parties in the lawsuit and the school board as we have discussions moving forward,” Wissman said. “They’ve been feeling each other out as far as what kind of negotiations or settlements are we talking about.”

Hoover said he will be running again in the school board elections in each town that are coming probably in early November. He also says all of the other contenders who won seats last year on the Germantown school board will probably run again as well.

“There were 8,000 people in Germantown who got up off the sofa and went out and cast a ballot not for the purpose of determining the outcome – that was preordained,” he said of the referendum turnout this week.

“And still 8,000 people in the middle of vacation season did what they needed to do to get to the polls just to cast that ballot. … To me that is evidence of a tremendous passion in the community for our schools.”