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Shelby County Schools’ proposed rezoning plan reflects goal to keep students in district

Students outside a school that's part of the state-run Achievement School District.
Students gather outside a school that's part of the state-run Achievement School District in Memphis.
Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

At a school board meeting Wednesday, Shelby County Schools administrators proposed a plan to redistrict thousands of students from the county’s patchwork of unincorporated areas to reflect changing boundaries shaped by plans for six new suburban school districts.

The proposal was the latest skirmish in an ongoing war between recently-merged Shelby County Schools, which includes the former Memphis City district, and six municipalities that are scrambling to split from the behemoth district and form their own school systems in the next six months, about who should educate which students.

The Shelby County district and the municipalities (Germantown, Collierville, Millington, Arlington, Bartlett and Cordova) reached agreements about which district will run which schools in December, but only after months of heated debates and to the chagrin of many Germantown residents, who lost three flagship schools.

Since then, the municipalities have made attempts to convince parents who live on the outer edges of Memphis or in unincorporated Shelby County to transfer their children into the new districts next year.

At stake are millions of state tax dollars that follow students to the schools they attend. Both districts could use the money.

Municipality officials are trying to avoid burdening suburban homeowners with even higher property and sales taxes if enrollment estimates don’t meet their expectations. Shelby County Schools officials are working to close a $24 million budget deficit caused by the expected loss of students to the municipalities, austerity cuts and students transferring to charter schools and the state-run Achievement School District (ASD).

The success of their efforts isn’t yet clear. The regional superintendent for Germantown Elementary, which will remain part of Shelby County Schools, said that of families who had completed a survey, 85 were intending to remain in the school, 75 said are undecided, and 30 intended to leave the school. She said that those numbers were in flux, as optional school programs in Shelby County Schools affected some parents’ decision to go and stay.

Uncertainty also reigns near Bartlett, where students now enrolled at Bartlett Elementary would be sent to Dexter Elementary school according to the plan. “We don’t know how many students will choose to stay or go if they have an opportunity to stay in Bartlett,” said Denise Sharpe, the district’s planner. While these families live, in some instances, just blocks from what will soon be considered municipal schools, they are technically in Shelby County Schools’ boundaries, meaning the district is obligated to provide their children with an education.

Shelby County Schools board members have yet to vote on the plans.

The district’s plan, detailed in a 26-page power-point presentation, shows changes that affect thousands of students scattered throughout Shelby County, many of whom are now in schools that are slated to become part of the municipal school districts. Students will have to travel as far as 14 miles, according to district planner Sharpe. Two schools in rural areas will be converted to K-8 schools.

Though some of the schools in the northeast part of the district will be at more than 100 percent of their capacity due to the plan, Sharpe said principals were prepared to deal with the new students.

The rezoning proposal also includes a plan to send students currently zoned to Memphis’ Fairview Middle School to Hamilton and Sherwood Middle Schools in order to make room for a new optional school in the Fairview building.

Board members raised concerns about the rezoning proposals and asked for some changes. Board member David Reaves questioned the efficiency of the proposal involving students near Collierville. Board member Teresa Jones wondered if community voice was factored into any of the decisions.

Jones, board member Shante Avant, and board member Billy Orgel questioned whether the new optional school at Fairview should be optional-only or whether it should also admit neighborhood students.

The board will likely discuss rezoning plans again during its business meeting next week. Hopson’s administration has proposed at least five tentative rezoning public hearings on the issue. The board did not indicate when they would vote on the issue.

The proposed rezoning plan could reduce transportation costs for the district, but Hopson said that once the district factors in its state funding, which will largely depend on enrollment, any savings could be a “wash.”

A few board members expressed concern that a rezoning plan may drive parents to a municipal district if students are bused too far from home.

Board chair Kevin Woods suggested creating an “inter-local agreement” with Collierville schools to educate some students zoned to SCS.

“We don’t know who is going to show up and it’s tough to plan for that,” said Hopson after Wednesday’s meeting. “We’re competing with the municipalities, charters and the ASD.”

<a href=””>SCS DistrictWide Rezonings Board Work 2 19 14 (PDF)</a></p><br /><br /><br />
<p><a href=””>SCS DistrictWide Rezonings Board Work 2 19 14 (Text)</a><br /><br /><br /><br />

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