The Shelby County Schools board approved a specific framework Monday, Oct. 28, for negotiations with each of the future six suburban school systems on school buildings within their boundaries.
The specifics are 40-year leases for a specific list of schools for a “negotiated sum” that would “assist in offsetting the health and life insurances costs of currently retired school system employees.”
But the negotiations could and probably will stray beyond that framework for a number of reasons.
Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald said negotiations with Bartlett leaders, including the Bartlett school board to be elected Nov. 21, would likely involve the Shelby County Commission dropping its part of the federal lawsuit challenging the existence of the suburban school districts.
The commission claims the school districts violate the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause because they would racially “resegregate” public schools in Shelby County.
“From Bartlett’s perspective we are ready to begin talking,” McDonald said, adding that the linking of the dollar amount to an estimated $28 million in insurance and retirement costs Shelby County Schools would retain after the suburban split is a part of the negotiations.
“They can call it whatever they want to. It’s consideration. It’s whatever they want to call it,” McDonald said. “For me the only way I’m gong to consider it is if it’s tied to the judge in some kind of settlement getting the 14th Amendment claim settled as part of the overall piece. Get this lawsuit settled and behind us.”
If an end to the lawsuit is not an indirect outcome of the school building talks, McDonald said the suburban leaders are prepared to pursue state legislation that would set the terms for the transfer of the school buildings.
“If that’s not a part of it, we’ve got Nashville. They start back in January,” McDonald said of the legislature. “And we’re already talking to those legislators. There’s more than one place to solve this issue.”
Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said Shelby County Schools will negotiate with the suburban school boards, and he and school system legal counsel Valerie Speakman will negotiate for the school system.
Hopson also said the framework for the negotiations could change and could include discussion about leasing the three schools in Germantown that bear the name of the city.
“I know that their school board wants to continue to negotiate,” Hopson said, referring to the future Germantown schools board. “And I don’t have a problem with talking to them. … I’m not changing the recommendation.”
Hopson said he plans to retain the current principals, faculty and staff at the three Germantown schools and make them optional schools. He added the school system also intends to seek $9 million in capital funding from the County Commission for renovations at Germantown High School.
Hopson proposed keeping the four schools, including Lucy Elementary in Millington, within Shelby County Schools system because large numbers of students from the Memphis annexation reserve area attend them. He also said the school system has an obligation to plan for students in the unincorporated areas of Shelby County who currently attend schools within the suburban towns and cities but who might get pushed out of the suburban school districts if the number of students who live in those towns and cities grows.
And a majority on the seven-member board, including school board member Billy Orgel, appear to be in support of the reasoning.
“What concerns me is … when you take responsibility for an area, the students that are not in your city – you have no zoning control over those students. … It’s not your reserve area and you can have unfettered growth,” Orgel said. “With unfettered growth at some point you can have a municipal system … where the non-residents make up a larger proportion of the (school) system than the residents do. … This could be a big issue if there’s growth in the unincorporated areas. … At some point you’ve got to make a break.”
Germantown Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy asked the board to reconsider a decision that would leave a Germantown school system with five schools instead of eight “for a resolution that works for all of us.”
But school board member David Reaves, whose district covers the northern part of Shelby County, said he is hearing a different message from his suburban constituents.
“In the north, most of the folks and most of the municipalities like the deal,” he said. “And I represent a group of people in the north who want this. … But it hurts. I wish it could be different.”
Among the other suburban mayors in the audience was Terry Jones, the mayor of Millington, where Lucy Elementary School would remain with Shelby County Schools.
Jones was circumspect.
“We’ve got ongoing negotiations,” he said. “That’s what we are still working on.”