VOL. 132 | NO. 69 | Thursday, April 6, 2017
Germantown School Board Approves New School Site
By Bill Dries
The Germantown school board has approved a contract to buy 38 acres of land at Forest Hill-Irene Road and Poplar Pike for a new elementary school for 750 children.
The board, which voted on the contract Wednesday, April 5, also set terms for further negotiations to possibly buy Germantown Elementary and/or Middle schools from Shelby County Schools.
But Germantown Municipal School District superintendent Jason Manuel says the drop-dead date for buying one of the two existing schools instead of building a new elementary school is next month.
“At that point, the city is going to have to go through the bonding process – with actually going out to bond to borrow this money,” Manuel said. “Once they start going down the road to borrow the money, that’s really the endpoint for those discussions.”
Germantown has pursued a dual track toward either building a new school or buying the existing elementary and/or middle school, which stayed with SCS in 2014 when the county’s six suburbs each created its own public school district.
SCS leaders kept Germantown Elementary, Middle and High schools – collectively known as the “three G’s” – because of the demand for classroom space in southeast Memphis.
“We are optimistic,” Manuel said of the possibility of a deal with SCS, though he added that to his knowledge there have been no new overtures from or to SCS leaders.
“We are optimistic because we know Shelby County Schools is looking at changing their complete footprint for all of their schools.”
Manuel said the negotiations could continue for a long-term use of either or both schools after the drop-dead date for closing on the new school site next month.
The contract on the land locks in a $3.1 million price, with Germantown putting up $30,000 in earnest money.
Manuel hopes to break ground in December with a projected opening date in August 2019.
“As we start dealing with middle school capacity, we also have the option that if we wanted to expand this campus to make it K-8 or add a middle school wing, we have that option to,” he said. “It also allows for recreational fields too.”
The board’s debate about the resolution on further talks with Shelby County Schools reflected a difference of opinion about past efforts and the involvement of the Germantown city administration.
School board member Suzanne Jones has been vocal in calling for renewed talks with a different approach and different voice.
She’s been so vocal that she was reprimanded by fellow board members earlier this year after SCS leaders complained about Jones contacting them.
“I don’t know that we necessarily have the positive outlook,” she said Wednesday. “There’s not that much happening.”
She also questioned why the city administration is involved when it should be a process initiated by the school system, as was the case with the new school site.
But other board members and Manuel pointed out that the school system cannot take on debt in its role. That is the role of the city in both cases.
The resolution by school board chairwoman Linda Fisher authorizes the school system’s executive committee along with the Germantown Mayor and city administrator to seek a purchase agreement with SCS. But Jones sought to amend it to leave out the mayor and instead have a committee of the Germantown school superintendent, one school board member and one alderman. It failed for lack of a second.
“We’re doing great things. We are trying to get the schools back,” said school board member Lisa Parker. “I don’t understand why we don’t have faith in our city. We just nitpick the heck out of everything.”
“I think it appears we are ceding our authority,” replied Jones, who cast the only vote against the resolution.