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Du Bois charter offers $5 million for Lanier, will pay off debt to SCS

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II, center, with Shelby County school board president Kevin Woods, left, and board member Billy Orgel, right.
Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson aims to increase the district's four-year graduation rate from 75 percent to 90 percent by 2025.
Kyle Kurlick

Shelby County Schools board members should accept a $5 million offer from W.E.B. Du Bois Consortium to purchase Lanier Middle School, which the charter school is currently leasing, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II will recommend at a work session this evening.

That total includes almost $600,000 Du Bois owes to the district for overestimating student enrollment figures.

Last month, Hopson delayed discussion on the issue during the board’s monthly meeting, saying there was ‘more work left to do’ in the negotiation process.

The Du Bois Consortium, which runs three charter schools in Shelby County, is led by former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton. It faced several challenges during its 2013-14 inaugural year, including closing a middle and high school for juvenile offenders it had opened in the district’s former Northside High School. Last year, Herenton projected that several hundred students would attend those schools, and Du Bois collected $771,000 for students that never enrolled.

The district and the consortium worked out a payment plan, and Du Bois has made all payments on time, district officials have said. Herenton’s schools are among 15 charters that owe money back to Shelby County Schools for overprotecting enrollment.

In July, board members debated whether to lease Lanier to Du Bois charter or Freedom Preparatory Academy. Du Bois didn’t have an academic track record because the state had not yet released its first-year results, while Freedom Prep did. Du Bois was willing to pay more than Freedom Prep for the building Du Bois won the board’s support even though a few members were concerned about its outstanding debt to the district.

Test score results released since that July meeting show that Du Bois students struggle academically. On the 2014 state report card, 18.6 of Du Bois elementary students were proficient or advanced in math and 34.3 percent were proficient or advanced in reading. Just under 9 percent of its middle school students were proficient or advanced in math and 21.2 percent were proficient or advanced in reading.

With the district facing declining student enrollment, what to do with underused building will become an increasingly urgent issue. The district also still owns buildings that have been taken over by the Achievement School District or its charters. If any of those schools close or fail, the district will have to decide what to do with the property.

The sale of Lanier Middle School would bring some much-needed revenue to the district.

School board member Chris Caldwell said he supports the sale and hopes Hopson will come up with a priority list for spending the money.

“It could be used to expand the iZone or help other struggling schools,” Caldwell said. “I think the money should be aligned with the 80/90/100 plan.”

The goal of that plan is to increase the district’s graduation rate and college and career readiness of all students by 2025. The iZone is a Shelby County led effort to turn around low performing schools by giving them increased supports and more freedom to hire and train teachers. iZone schools also feature longer school days than other district schools.

Caldwell believes if the district is going to sell any unused buildings, they should go to ‘the best operators we can get.’

“I’m not anti-charter, I’m not in favor of bad charters. If there are going to be more charter schools, then there should be a policy recommendation from the administration that the committee can work on,” Caldwell said.

The board meets at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and its monthly business meeting will be held on Nov. 25. Both meetings will be held at at 160 S. Hollywood St.

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at tcheshier@chalkbeat.org and (901) 730-4013.

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