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Shelby County board members approve rezoning plan, capital funds request

Shelby County’s school board voted Tuesday to approve a revised rezoning plan and request $52.6 million in capital improvement funds from the Shelby County commission.

The district’s revised rezoning plans come after a series of community meetings with affected parents. At the community meetings, parents raised concerns about students having to travel long distances to attend schools and the quality of some of the schools students were initially slated to attend. The district’s revised plans reflected some of those concerns.

The capital funding request includes renovations for several schools affected by the rezoning and a planned new building that was devised during the district’s process of planning to close 13 schools in Memphis.

Shelby County Schools is preparing for the creation of new municipal school districts in six Memphis suburbs carved out of the county school system’s current boundaries and a shrinking enrollment in traditional district schools due to demographic trends, the expansion of the state-run Achievement School District and a growing charter school sector.

District planner Denise Sharpe outlined a series of changes to the rezoning plans: High school students whose parents were concerned about students being split up from peers will all be rezoned to a single school; students whose parents were concerned about the quality of the high school they were zoned to will now be rezoned to a high-performing school.

Two buildings will eventually undergo more dramatic identity changes, according to the plans: Lucy Elementary School, currently a K-5 school, will eventually become a K-8 school, while Woodstock will eventually host a full high school.

The district also amended its attendance policy to reflect that it is zoning students who live within Shelby County Schools’ boundary, rather than in the county as a whole, to reflect the planned separation of the new districts.

“We’ve listened to parents and made a decision. We’ve tried to look 3-5 years out to see what we want to get out of the rezoning,” said board member Teresa Jones.

The $52.6 million request for capital funds includes funds for construction at Jeter, Woodstock, and Barret’s Chapel schools, all of which will be receiving new students due to the separation of the municipalities.

The district is also requesting a new building for students at Westhaven, Fairley and Raineshaven elementary schools. That plan was proposed during the district’s planning process for school closings; Westhaven was initially slated to close altogether.

The district is also requesting a series of roof replacements for several schools.

Board member David Reaves initially proposed amending the capital request to add $300,000 for a new roof for Lakeland Elementary, which will be part of the Lakeland municipal district next year. He said the school’s roof had been in bad shape for a number of years.

Board member Teresa Jones disagreed with the plan to change the proposal at the last minute.

Board member Shante Avant echoed that concern, saying, “We don’t know where Lakeland falls in overall priority. It’s not acceptable to pull out a school that we may have personal knowledge of, while other schools may have just as dire a need or more.”

A district official said that more than 35 schools have leaky roofs. Board member Orgel suggested that the board consider how to deal with the problem of leaky roofs in the district as a whole. “We can’t let our assets deteriorate,” he said.

Woods and Reaves voted to amend the request, while Jones, Orgel, and Avant voted against. The board members then approved the unamended request.

The county commission will consider the capital request later this spring.

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