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Shelby County superintendent proposes to take back schools, students

Shelby County school administrators proposed Tuesday to keep four schools and thousands of students from being absorbed by six municipalities that want to break away from the district.

The proposal would keep millions of tax dollars that follow students in county coffers, cushioning the financial blow that a separation between six municipalities and the county system would cause. Shelby administrators estimate they would lose at least $52 million if the six municipalities split next year. They would lose another $22 million if the county keeps intact the school zoning map that determines where students go to school, officials said last night.

Shelby superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the plan would be the least disruptive to the more than 150,000 students who attend public schools in Shelby County.

“Continuity for the students was a big driver here,” Hopson told board members.

That offended officials in Germantown, who have asked to keep the map as-is and who would be the most affected of all the municipalities by the county’s proposal. The proposal calls for Germantown elementary, middle, and high school and their buildings to stay under the control of Shelby County.

“By their keeping those three schools…it’s displacing by our numbers 1,300 out of 4,500 students. Is that not disrupting students?” Germantown mayor Sharon Goldsworthy told local televisions about the proposal.

The board is expected to vote on the decision as soon as next week. A board member, David Reaves, suggested the plan is likely to pass.

The proposal comes amid a contentious fight by six municipalities who are attempting to separate from Shelby County Schools. The school system recently absorbed Memphis Schools, which is mostly poor and black.

The Shelby County commission and the city of Memphis have argued in court that the separation is an attempt to re-segregate the school system, while municipal officials say a smaller district would be more efficient. The separation has nothing to do with race, they argue.

Shelby County commissioner James Harvey hinted Tuesday that the county commission is willing to drop the most recent lawsuit.

Under the plan laid out at the board’s work session Tuesday, the district would retain students who live within Memphis city limits or in unincorporated areas but attend municipal schools under the district’s current zoning plan. Instead, those students should attend county schools that are currently well under capacity but have strong academic programs, administrators said.

Under the plan, most municipalities would lose only a few hundred students. Arlington, for example, would lose 265 of its students under the plan.

But other districts would be heavily impacted by the plan. In Germantown, for example, 1,236 students currently attend Germantown High School who don’t live in Germantown. A similar scenario plays out at the elementary school.

The district proposed retaining both schools plus Germantown Middle School because a large percentage of the students attending those schools do not live in Germantown, officials said.

Hopson said he’d keep the administration intact and said the board has the option to change the schools’ names.

Hopson, a trained lawyer, said his staff considered several legal and financial elements while creating the plan. Had students left their neighborhoods to attend municipal schools, they would have nobody to represent them on the school board, he said.

Another danger in allowing municipalities to continue serving students who live outside their boundaries, Hopson said, is that the municipalities could decide only to provide transportation to students who live within their city limits. That would leave students who live elsewhere with no way to get to school.

Finally, Hopson wanted to avoid the cash-strapped district from having to build more schools to address overcrowding.

With all the change taking place, James Harvey, the Shelby County Commissioner, said the proposal could be the start of the county and the municipalities working together toward an amicable separation. If the municipalities want to open school doors by next fall, they have to elect school board members, select a superintendent, build a curriculum, and create a financial plan first, he said.

“You have a behemoth of issues that you have to get to before school starts,” Harvey said. “If these guys don’t work together, this thing isn’t going to work.”

To view how your community would be impacted, click this link.

Shelby County School Board Plan for Handling Suburban Districts’ Separation