Twenty-three's a crowd
Come the end of September, Memphis City Schools and the surrounding Shelby County School District will become one. To effect the merger, the two districts have cobbled together a twenty-three member school board—comprised of the MCS board, the Shelby Co. board, and another seven appointed members thrown in for good measure. (This bloated transition board is supposed to diet back down to the standard seven-member elected board by the districts' 2013 deadline for combination.) While the Memphis-Shelby merger won’t be the first such city-county union (Charlotte-Mecklenberg, NC and Jefferson Country, KY are other examples), the “how” behind this fusion is nothing if not unorthodox. Last year, Shelby Co. (which shares financial responsibility with Memphis for the River City's schools) postured that it would form a “special district,” thereby cutting financial ties to MCS (and damming up 26 percent of the Memphis Schools’s budget). In retaliation, the Memphis school board moved to dissolve its own district. (In a funky statutory twist, this decision by the board means that Memphis schools necessarily get subsumed into the Shelby Co. district—and are thus able to keep their funding stream open.) Two-thirds of city residents backed the move, in hopes that the higher-performing Shelby County schools would help boost achievement for Memphis’s 103,000 students. Of course, residents of the more affluent suburban district (47,000 students strong) were none too pleased. They sued, and lost, bringing us back to that 23-member school board. If done right, this merger could allow for dynamic and forward-thinking reform on both school governance and school finance. (Gadfly gets giddy thinking about the possibilities of expanded parental choice—countywide—and weighted-student funding among schools.) Here’s hoping that twenty-three turns out to be a lucky number.
“Tentative agreement in Memphis school merger,” by Adrian Sainz, Associated Press, August 24, 2011.
“School merger begins to take shape,” by Zack McMillin, Memphis Commercial Appeal, August 29, 2011.
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