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VOL. 128 | NO. 228 | Thursday, November 21, 2013

Arlington, Lakeland School Pacts Go to Commission

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioners meet Friday, Nov. 22, for the second time this week.

Friday’s special meeting is the latest stop for the agreements that transfer school buildings to the forming municipal school districts in Arlington and Lakeland and end a federal lawsuit over those two school districts.

The commission is scheduled to vote on the two pacts worked out by attorneys for the commission as well as Shelby County Schools and suburban leaders in both towns. The suburban leaders have also been consulting with members of the Arlington and Lakeland school boards who take office next month.

The first approval of the agreements came Tuesday evening in a set of unanimous 7-0 votes by the Shelby County Schools board.

The agreements the school board approved transfer the school buildings and also include an agreement by the Shelby County Commission to end the still-pending federal lawsuit against Lakeland and Arlington.

The remaining part of the lawsuit is the commission’s third-party claim that challenges the existence of the school districts in all six of the county’s suburban towns and cities on the grounds that they violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by racially “resegregating” public schools in Shelby County.

Negotiations are still underway with the four remaining suburbs: Germantown, Bartlett, Collierville and Millington.

The terms of the agreement with Lakeland involve Lakeland’s board of education paying Shelby County Schools $676,044 over a period of 12 years at $56,337 a year for the one public school within its borders – Lakeland Elementary School.

Arlington’s board of education pays Shelby County Schools $3.9 million over a period of 12 years at $333,333 a year for four schools within its borders – Arlington Elementary, Middle and High Schools, and Donelson Elementary School.

“This is somewhat bittersweet,” said Shelby County Schools board chairman Kevin Woods before the set of votes. “We have board members who wanted everything from fair market value to board members who wanted to roll out the red carpet and let them start schools at no cost. I wish you the best of luck.”

School board member Teresa Jones acknowledged she wanted the suburban school districts to pay fair market value. School board member David Reaves acknowledged he was on the other end of the spectrum. He had speculated early in the process that the school system should give the buildings to the suburban school systems for some token amount.

“I realize in any negotiations there has to be compromise,” Jones said. “Even though I wanted things that I didn’t get, and I guess the other side did too, I do support this agreement and I think it is a good agreement – a good deal for us.”

Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the agreements involve “very, very complex issues.”

“I know there will be attempts to boil these contracts down to sound bites,” he said, adding that he hoped the pacts were “hopefully the first step in a journey of putting the spotlight back on student achievement.”

While the language of both agreements clearly links the amounts of money to the transfer of the school buildings to the suburban school districts, technically the quitclaim deeds transfer the property, in each case, for $10.

And the larger amounts paid in the basic agreement of which the quitclaim is attached are for Shelby County Schools “to reduce its retiree health and life insurance liabilities incurred as of May 31, 2014.”

The liabilities are a dollar amount Hopson has estimated at $28 million extra the school system will have to continue to pay for retirees in its plan even after the suburban school districts are formed and teachers and students leave Shelby County Schools.

Shelby County government’s maintenance of effort – the minimum amount of funding it must provide for Shelby County Schools under state law – cannot be reduced because of the money Shelby County Schools is getting from the municipalities.

If there is a delay in the target date for opening the Arlington and Lakeland school districts next August, the deeds to the school buildings in both towns are not transferred until they open schools at whatever the later date is.

If either school system goes out of business after opening for classes, the school buildings revert back to Shelby County Schools.

The school boards for Arlington and Lakeland elected this month will also have to approve the agreements once those school board members take the oath of office and begin their duties.

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