Hopson Three-Year Contract Approved By School Board.

By Bill Dries

Countywide school board members approved a three-year contract Tuesday, Sept. 17, that makes Dorsey Hopson the superintendent of Shelby County schools through Sept. 2, 2016 at a starting base pay of $269,000 a year.

The draft contract with Hopson, who had been general counsel to Memphis City Schools and then became interim superintendent of the two legacy school systems into their merger, was approved by the seven-member board less than two weeks after the board voted to pursue contract negotiations with Hopson.

The terms provide for a one year extension through the 2016-2017 school year if the board takes no action by March 1, 2016. After the year’s extension, the agreement operates on a year-to-year arrangement.

Hopson is evaluated and based on that evaluation would get the same percentage pay raise as all other school system employees.

Meanwhile, Hopson told the board he wants to explore the school system taking over Shelby County government’s Head Start program as a way to expand, align with the school system in curriculum and provide some consistency to the quality of prekindergarten programs.

The program is funded with a $25 million federal grant and Hopson and his staff are exploring whether that grant would cover the start-up costs for a plan in which the school system would contract with providers to operate Head Start centers. Initial indications are that it could, he said.

School board member David Reaves suggested the board seek a countywide sales tax hike referendum to fund what costs there might be for the move into Head Start management. The remainder of any revenue from such a sales tax hike would go to roll back the county property tax rate.

Reaves’ specific suggestion would be an alternate to the half cent city sales tax hike proposal expected to go on the November ballot in Memphis to provide for a prekindergarten expansion within Memphis only. The city of Memphis would use $30 million of the revenue generated from the sales tax hike to contract with pre kindergarten providers and some city leaders have said the countywide school system could be the provider.

Hopson said his staff will continue to look at the option of becoming the countywide Head Start facilitator with an Oct. 22 deadline to submit a proposal.

The school board discussed the option Tuesday evening and took no votes.

School board members voted down a resolution by board member David Pickler to call for a moratorium on the approval of any new charter schools statewide until the 2016-2017 school year. Pickler cited the financial impact of charter schools on the school system as well as legislative proposals pending in the Tennessee legislature that would allow even more charter schools, some requiring state approval only with no local school board approval.

The resolution also would have questioned the constitutionality of the state’s current law which has no limits on the number of charter schools that the state can have with local school board approval.

Pickler argued it was a necessary statement but other board members were opposed to a moratorium or joining in any kind of lawsuit over the existing charter schools law.

In other action, the board welcomed its newest member, Shante Avant, who was appointed to the board earlier this month by the Shelby County Commission to fill the vacancy in District 6. Avant took the oath of office before the school board meeting, its first in the auditorium at the Board of Education building that used to be where the Memphis City Schools board met.

Board members also elected Kevin Woods as the board’s new chairman and Chris Caldwell as vice chairman. Both assume their duties with the next school board meeting in October.

Woods replaces Billy Orgel, who has been the board’s chairman since October 2011 when the 23-member transitional board took office. Orgel did not seek another term as board chairman.