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VOL. 129 | NO. 38 | Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Commission Approves Nine-District School Board

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioners approved Monday, Feb. 24, a restructuring of the Shelby County Schools board to nine districts that take in all of Memphis and all of the unincorporated areas of the county but not the six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County.

The redistricting plan approved in a resolution goes to U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays for his approval as part of the Memphis Federal Court consent decree involving the reformation of public education in Shelby County.

If Mays approves the plan, it would then go to the Shelby County Election Commission to change the August election ballot that presently includes elections for a 13-member school board.

Candidates in the school board races began pulling qualifying petitions in January. And Election Commission officials had said March 3, one month from the April 3 filing deadline for candidates, was the latest they could wait for a change to the ballot.

Some commissioners wanted a redistricting plan to include what they described as an “isthmus” or “peninsula” that included the site of Germantown High School and took in 359 homes within Germantown’s borders.

Commissioner Mark Billingsley sought the area because Germantown Elementary, Middle and High Schools will remain part of Shelby County Schools once separate school systems in each of the six suburban towns and cities begin operation in August with the new school year.

Billingsley said it is a symbolic effort to give Germantown parents a representative on the school board they can call.

But other commissioners argued Germantown students who attend the “three Gs,” as they are known, make a choice to attend the schools as other students do to attend optional schools.

All five of the redistricting maps considered by the county commission featured fragmented districts in which a single district is broken up into pieces around the suburban towns and cities.

The Shelby County Schools board is now a seven-member body with districts that cover the entire county including the suburban towns and cities. The commission approved a 13-member school board redistricting plan that covered the entire county as well. The commission also intended to appoint six new members until Mays ruled that the six new members would instead be elected by voters in 2014 which would be when the school board would increase in size.

But commissioner Mike Ritz moved for the nine-member plan excluding the suburbs citing the decision by suburban voters to form their own school districts.

In other action Monday, the commission defeated on the first of three readings a referendum ordinance that would drop any residency requirement in the Shelby County government charter for county employees as well as Shelby County Schools system employees.

If the commission approves the referendum ordinance on third reading next month, the item would go on the August election ballot for voters across the country to decide.

Under recent commission rules, if an ordinance fails on first and/or second reading it still advances to third reading.

And the commission approved a resolution urging the Shelby County Schools board to “reevaluate” any school closings plan that includes closing Westhaven Elementary School in southwest Memphis.

The school board is expected to vote on school closing recommendations at its Tuesday, Feb. 25 meeting.

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