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VOL. 130 | NO. 105 | Monday, June 1, 2015

Germantown Leaders Exploring Elementary School Possibilities

By Bill Dries

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When Germantown Municipal School District leaders began talking openly last week about new school construction, they did so cautiously, keeping in mind similar recent discussions in Lakeland and Collierville.


“We know currently right now we are over our optimal capacity at our elementary schools,” Germantown superintendent Jason Manuel said, citing 22 portable classrooms in use at Riverdale Elementary during the just-ended school year.

“Our middle school population is going to grow even more than that in the next 15 to 20 years,” he added. “How do we accommodate that additional middle school growth?”

The answer to that is less clear than the need for a new elementary school, he told Germantown school board members Thursday, May 28. Early options include adding to existing schools or restructuring them to a grades K-8 system.

Germantown Elementary is off the table, at least for now, as a possible way to expand the Germantown Municipal School District.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Manuel said his objective is to have by the end of the summer a firm set of student population projections to illustrate specific needs and a “direction.” Those projections would then go to the Germantown Board of Mayor and Aldermen for a review of costs and funding options.

“My hope is that we are by the end of the next school year breaking ground on these projects,” Manuel said. “We are very close to capacity at all of our schools, where we cannot fit any more students. Not optimum capacity, but maximum capacity.”

The same basic conclusion should be apparent in Germantown’s elementary schools in the coming academic year.

“There is no way that we could draw the attendance zones,” Manuel said. “It is a problem across all of our elementary schools. We are full. The only way to deal with that problem is to have an additional facility to deal with those increased numbers.”

The Germantown Municipal School District is the third of the six suburban school systems to talk about the need for new construction.

Lakeland voters in April voted down a $50 million bond issue to build a new grades 6-12 school for the Lakeland School System.

Collierville Schools leaders and the Collierville Chamber of Commerce are gearing up for a campaign to build support for a single comprehensive high school for that district.

The campaign follows a direct mail survey in which residents were asked if they would support a 38-cent property tax hike. Most did not return the survey; among those that did, 51 percent – 2,261 of 4,426 – said they opposed such a tax hike.

“I think Lakeland was surprised and Collierville was shocked at the responses they got,” said Germantown school board member Ken Hoover. “The overriding lesson I take from their experience is these great wonderful communities that we live in don’t take our word for it carte blanche. We need to be informed. They need to be educated. They need to see the thought process that led to this conclusion. … If you want community buy-in and community support, you have to explain what it is.”

Germantown’s path to an answer on new or expanded schools is different.

In the demerger of Shelby County public education last August, Germantown Elementary, Middle and High remained in the Shelby County Schools system even though all three are within Germantown’s borders. The “three G’s,” as they are known, are open to children living in Germantown as well as students from other attendance zones.

Hopson said Shelby County Schools needed those schools and their capacity to accommodate its students in Southeast Memphis and Shelby County, where the student population is shifting from the west.

Manuel made his presentation to the school board on the matter two weeks after Mayor Mike Palazzolo and city administrator Patrick Lawton met with Hopson and SCS board member Kevin Woods about Germantown Elementary possibly becoming part of the Germantown Municipal School District in the 2015-2016 school year.

The May 15 meeting ended with an announcement that the elementary school would remain part of Shelby County Schools, at least for now.

“At the end of the day, it was agreed that it was in the interest of both parties that the elementary school remain with Shelby County Schools,” read the written statement from the city of Germantown.

Germantown school board member Mark Dely said any discussion between the board and constituents should “address that head on” in terms of explaining it.

Manuel said the idea of transferring one or more of the “three G’s” to the Germantown school district could come up in the future and that the most recent talks did not close the door on the possibility entirely.

“I think it’s shut. It’s not locked,” said school board chairwoman Lisa Parker.

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