Schools Demerger Reflects Cooperation, Competition

By Bill Dries

March 14 "Behind the Headlines"

For now, Shelby County’s seven public school systems are cooperating and competing with one another often at the same time on the way to the demerger of public education in August.

The same dual existence is playing itself out between the Shelby County Schools board and parents of children who have attended schools about to be in the suburban school systems but who live outside the six cities and towns.

Parents are waiting on the approval of attendance zones and open enrollment policies to cross the new school systems borders to make their decisions and choices.

School board members are waiting on parents to give some early indication of what that choice might be to see how much room they will have. And in the case of Shelby County Schools, that affects how much state funding leaves the school system with those students who attend suburban schools.

“We may get 10,000 fewer kids than we thought or we may get 10,000 more kids than we thought,” said Shelby County Schools board chairman Kevin Woods on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.”


The program, which also features schools board members Teresa Jones and David Reaves, can be seen on The Daily News Video page,

Shelby County Schools leaders last week completed a series of hearings in the areas affected by a set of 24 attendance zone changes that involve 7,000 children. Most of the children affected currently attend schools that will be in the suburban school districts when those six new school districts debut with the new school year that begins in August.

“They are mainly focused on their child and the schools they thought their child would attend. They didn’t have a vote in many of the issues that created this situation and they just feel as if they have now been basically thrown a punch,” Jones said of parents of those children. “They understand there was a merger. They understand there’s a demerger. They understand the concept of new municipal school districts but they really can’t accept that they will possibly not be able to attend those schools.”

The school board could vote on the attendance zone changes later this month. And all three board members on “Behind The Headlines” said there will likely be some tweaks to the proposal but other hard choices like sending students in unincorporated Shelby County who now attend Bartlett Elementary School to Dexter Elementary School will likely remain.


“What I’m hearing is that they want to continue to go to those (suburban) schools. … We have to make sure we plan for capacity for those students in our existing system. We cannot commit them to another system,” said Reaves, whose district includes the area. “That’s the reason why we came up with the Dexter solution. It is the closest to their homes and provided a solution to the capacity. But, by and far, most of these kids can walk to Bartlett Elementary.”

And Reaves believes most will because he thinks it is very likely the Bartlett Schools system will have room at Bartlett Elementary for some open enrollment slots.

Woods is emphasizing that the option, as well as transfers that allow rising seniors who live in unincorporated Shelby County to graduate from high schools in the suburbs that they have attended before the demerger, are decisions suburban school system leaders will make.

“Publicly we understand that they have to say their No. 1 priority is the families that live in those municipalities,” Woods said. “But at the end of the day, I think they will do right by those families and make sure of that if they have space.”

Reaves, like Woods, emphasizes the decision is not one that is up to Shelby County Schools.

“It’s still subject to open enrollment and the reality is a lot of these municipal schools are full,” he said, speaking specifically of high schools. “It’s going to be up to them to make that decision. I don’t think we can guarantee anything. … There could be some difficulties in that area.”

Parents have more choices than ever including the open enrollment options that will make the borders of the seven school districts more porous to an extent.

Jones said parents at the public hearings are aware of those choices. But she added it will take time to sell those parents on the merits of schools that have recently turned around their student performance numbers.

“Parents want the best school that’s available for their child,” she said. “Community wide, certain schools have certain reputations. It’s not likely that we are going to change that within the course of this school year or maybe even the next couple of years.”