School Board Keeps Uniform Status Quo, Rejects Union Representation

By Bill Dries

Countywide school board members agreed Tuesday, May 28, that for the new school year to come, students will follow whatever uniform or dress code they had last school year in their respective schools.

And the school board voted down a resolution that would have recognized existing labor unions as representative of employees short of collective bargaining rights.

The two decisions signal the final stages of the transition to the schools merger that begins formally with the July 1 start of the new fiscal year but begins for over 150,000 school children and their parents on the first day of classes Aug. 5.

The recommendation by interim schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson and his cabinet on school uniforms was not to “harmonize” to a single policy to govern both sets of students who become one school system in just over a month.

Hopson described the policy as site-based decision making.

During the 2013-2014 school year, principals and parents council at a school could come to the school system with a petition seeking to either have or drop a uniform policy or dress code standards. Hopson and his staff would review the petition. If they approve the petition, the school would then keep whatever the decision is for the next four school years before they would be allowed to change it again.

“I think our overriding objective is to get schools merged and then let the community weigh in the following year,” Hopson said.

The board voted down a resolution offered by school board member Jeff Warren to recognize labor unions as the representatives of employees. But Warren changed the wording to delete any reference to collective bargaining rights after Hopson and school board attorney Valerie Speakman expressed concerns.

Tennessee law doesn’t recognize collective bargaining rights for employees other than teachers. And state law limits those rights for teachers.

Other board members expressed concerns about what would happen if teachers or other employees of the old Shelby County Schools system, who haven’t had union representation didn’t want such representation.

Warren said that didn’t bar different groups from representing different employees especially since state law on collective bargaining rights for employees other than teachers means no binding agreement can be made between the unions and a school system.

But Hopson and Speakman said recognition of any group could open the school system to lawsuits from groups opposed to representation by certain groups and not by others.

The board also tabled a resolution from school board member Kenneth Whalum Jr. that would have provided a full time music instructor to each of the 12 schools the board is considering closing in the 2014-2015 school year.

The music instructors would be for the last school year the schools are likely to operate and the $65,000 expense per music instructor would be solicited from 12 local corporations who have received payment in lieu of taxes incentives to locate or expand in Memphis or Shelby County.

The resolution also solicited the help of nonprofit education groups and professional education associations in working in the schools on a volunteer basis to “ensure excellent instruction at those 12 schools” and provide one-on-one tutoring and mentoring for every student in the 12 schools.