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VOL. 128 | NO. 50 | Wednesday, March 13, 2013

County Commission Ponders Larger School Board

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioners are about to consider another change to the terms of the ongoing reformation of public education in Shelby County.

Shelby County Commissioners will consider a change to the size of the countywide school board, shown above.

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)

At Wednesday, March 13, committee sessions, a new ad hoc committee will discuss possibly changing the size of the countywide school board effective Sept. 1.

The 23-member school board that now includes all nine members of the old Memphis City Schools board and all seven members of the old Shelby County Schools board is to pare down to a seven-member board Sept. 1 as it loses the 16 members of the two former boards.

Some on the commission want to – and by terms of the federal court consent decree in the schools merger court case are allowed to – expand the school board to 13 members. Commissioners who favor the move have talked of using the same district lines the commission will use in the 2014 county elections.

The possible change will be discussed at an 8:45 a.m. session Wednesday of the redistricting ad hoc committee appointed by commission Chairman Mike Ritz last month. That is followed by a 9:15 a.m. education committee session where commissioners will consider a resolution that outlines a complex conversion to a 13-member school board.

Depending on the outcome of the earlier discussion, the resolution could go to the full commission for a vote as early as Monday, March 18.

The conversion would begin almost immediately with the County Commission appointing six new school board members to take office with the seven elected just last year by voters.

The appointed school board members would join the board Sept. 1 and serve through the end of August 2014.

In the August 2014 county general elections, those six appointed positions would be on the ballot along with seats in four other altered school board districts. The four school board members from those altered districts live within the new boundaries proposed.

Seven of the 10 would be elected to full four-year terms, while the remaining three would be elected to one-time-only terms of two years to stagger the terms of office into future election years.

Staggered school board terms are required by state law.

The three school board seats that are up again in the 2016 elections would be joined on that general election ballot by three school board seats whose current representatives would still live within their altered district boundaries, according to the map drawn up by the County Commission. Those sitting school board members continue current terms of office through the 2016 elections and the end of August 2016.

Terms of office in Shelby County government begin Sept. 1.

The school board change becomes more complex if municipal school districts are established in Shelby County’s six suburban towns and cities. Those areas would then be drawn out of representation on the countywide school board.

Some on the commission, including Steve Basar, are reluctant to change the school board once it slims down to seven members. The hesitancy is based on the challenge the size of the current school board has been at times to moving ahead with setting the terms of how the consolidation will work in a single school system.

“I’m quite frankly looking forward to day one when you are going to have seven people,” Basar said last month. “I’m going to be lobbying hard to keep it seven because I think the seven you’ve got can make rapid decisions that are going to be in the best interest of everybody.”

Others, including Commissioner Steve Mulroy, have argued using the same set of district lines as the County Commission is simpler for voters in the long run and provides for more representation in smaller districts than the current seven-district school board configuration.

The 13-member school board would also mirror the old Memphis City Schools board district configuration in which the seven district school board seats used the same boundaries as the seven single-member districts on the Memphis City Council.

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