Mays Needs to Grab Control of Merger

Saturday, March 23, 2013, Vol. 6, No. 13

Maybe most of the work of the schools merger has been done by the countywide school board. That’s a big maybe.

Even with that assumption, it is still hard to put a happy face at the top of this assignment that counts for most of a critical grade our elected leaders should get.

The merger was going to be tough to pull off even under the best of circumstances. Very little about this has been “the best.”

So less than five months before the first day of classes for the consolidated school system about the best we can hope for is that what had been two school systems will begin the school year much as they were before the merger. Some policies now apply to both school systems. So do some specific goals and procedures.

But what happened to the idea that this was the opportunity to build something that was more than the sum of its parts, you may ask.

It is still being dragged behind the speeding and careening big rig that our elected leaders are fighting with each other to control. We should say they seem to be fighting to make sure the others in the cab with them don’t get control of the truck.

The 23-member countywide school board was supposed to go down to seven members on Sept. 1. But the Shelby County Commission has again shuffled the deck and sent to Memphis Federal Court a convoluted plan to instead make that a 13-member countywide board. And those six new members could be appointed by the commission as soon as they get the green light from U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays.

The commission’s original thinking was that it would be easier to make the school board the same size as the commission and use the same set of district lines.

Only the district lines aren’t the same, because that would put some incumbent school board members in the same district as others and possibly lead to lawsuits over shortening the terms of elected school board members.

So the district lines are not identical and the electorate faces the prospect of school board elections in 2014 and 2016 in which they will once again – three times in five years – elect a set of school board members to “one-time-only” terms of two years to stagger school board terms under state law.

The pursuit of something better in public education is now framed as something more gradual. That translates to the powers that be will get started on it when they are through playing games with each other.

Mays should take control of the merger now. A court-mandated merger timeline with the backup of court action to make decisions elected officials have had numerous chances to make and haven’t is the only way to end the games where the rules change every time a gavel falls on another meeting.