Hopson Goes ‘All In’ on Schools Post

By Bill Dries

Dorsey Hopson’s answer was quick and concise when he was asked Wednesday, March 27, if he wanted the job of being superintendent of the consolidated school system on a permanent basis.

“No,” Hopson said, as he stood with a “cabinet” of 10 school systems administrators from both school systems who will help him take city and county schools into the merger in the next four months.

But the day after he was selected to be interim superintendent of Shelby County Schools by the countywide school board, Hopson, who was already interim Memphis City Schools superintendent, said he intends to lead and will be outspoken.

“I think that the best thing about not wanting to be superintendent … is the objectivity just to make the decisions based on what I think is right,” Hopson said. “I do know school operations and I do know how to maneuver issues associated with schools. We’re all in. I take it seriously.”

Hopson is a native Memphian and the son of two schoolteachers. He was assistant general counsel and interim general counsel for the Atlanta school system and then general counsel for the Clayton County, Ga., school district before returning to Memphis as Memphis City Schools general counsel in 2008.

Hopson again took the offense Wednesday on the day-to-day school operations side of a merger process that has been rocky at higher levels.

“Schools will open in August 2013. There will not be major changes in the way that these schools do business,” he said. “Attendance zones are not going to change. There’s not going to be any busing. There’s not going to be mass staffing changes.”

Within 30 days, Hopson and his staff plan to have a proposed budget for the first fiscal year of the schools merger, which begins July 1 that will reflect what Shelby County Commissioners have indicated is likely to be the level of county funding for schools.

That level is approximately $5 million in new funding for the consolidated school district that loses $68 million in city of Memphis funding with the start of the merger.

“What we’ve decided to do is budget to the number we think we’re going to get. It’s going to be painful. There’s really no way around it,” Hopson said. “I’m going to be a straight shooter. I’m going to be honest and there are going to be some cuts.”

That begins with a 26 percent cut in the school system’s central office.

“We’re going to be scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing – picking up the couch and shaking to see what dimes and nickels we can find,” Hopson said. “At the end of the day, when you have to close a $65 million budget gap – other than classrooms – nothing is off the table.”

He also said again Wednesday that he believes more schools should be closed beyond the four elementary schools the school board voted to close Tuesday.

But he also talked about the obstacle course that comes with considering that.

“The first challenge is there’s a policy that requires a bunch of public hearings that require time,” he said in outlining the board policies.

“The second challenge is that even if the board were to waive those policies, just with the magnitude of work that has to occur to get the schools merged, we will be shorthanded. I can see a scenario where we recommend the board close schools and have the closings effective the 2014-2015 school year.”

Meanwhile, Hopson said he is willing to enter into talks with Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. as well as the Memphis City Council on even a partial payment of $57 million in city funding the council cut in 2008.

The funding cut happened within days of Hopson taking the job as Memphis City Schools general counsel and Hopson was the lead attorney in the ensuing state court fight that ended with a judgment against the city to pay the schools $57 million.

Still pending is a city of Memphis counter claim for approximately $140 million the city claims the school system owes it.