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Charter schools, ASD schools will fill some closed Shelby County Schools; plans for others unclear

Vance Middle School, one of the schools slated to close next year, could host the district's virtual school, regional central office staff, or a charter school.
Vance Middle School, one of the schools slated to close next year, could host the district's virtual school, regional central office staff, or a charter school.
J. Zubrzycki

Though the nine Shelby County Schools that are closing this year have already had their last day of school, the district is still determining what to do with some of the school buildings that will be left behind. District officials shared a tentative list of plans for those buildings at a meeting of the board’s facilities committee Wednesday.

The district is closing ten schools buildings next year, citing declining enrollment and a need to consolidate resources to improve academic performance. At meetings leading up to the board’s vote to close the schools, superintendent Dorsey Hopson II reassured affected communities that the district would ensure the buildings did not become blighted. At last week’s board meeting, the board voted for a contractor who would board up any buildings that are not occupied by next year.

But plans for several of the school buildings have not yet been finalized.

Board members asked for clarity on the process of filling or mothballing the empty buildings. “School closure isn’t going away,” said board chair Kevin Woods. “It will come up next year and (the) following year. We need to have clear solutions for facilities, not just, ‘Hey a charter’s looking at it.'”

“If there’s no interest at all, we need to convene the community,” said Teresa Jones, suggesting that churches may be interested in some of the facilities. “And we need to have a timeline for when schools would be boarded up.”

District planner Denise Sharpe shared this tentative list of plans for the building with board members:

  • Shannon, Korry and Klondike Elementary Schools will all house schools run by the state-run Achievement School District.
  • Cypress Middle School will turn into a KIPP school.
  • The Gordon Elementary School building may house either a charter or alternative schools.
  • Lanier Middle School also might house a charter school.
  • Vance Middle School might become Shelby County Schools’ virtual school and have regional district staff located in it. Charter operators have also expressed interest in that building.
  • Graves and Westhaven elementary schools will be demolished.
  • Fairview will host a new STEAM school.
  • There is no plan yet for Riverview Elementary in the south side of the city, though Sharpe said the building was in good condition.

Sharpe said the charter schools that had expressed interest in Lanier, Vance, and Gordon would be ready to move into the buildings before school starts this fall.

The quality of some of the empty school buildings is also an issue, however. A charter school had located in Georgia Avenue, former home of a school closed some years ago, but is leaving because of the poor condition of the building, Sharpe said.

Board members requested a list of all of the empty buildings in the district. They also asked district officials to create a clear process for how the district sells any piece of property or determines which of several parties should get an empty building.

As the number of charter schools and empty buildings in Shelby County grows, who gets access to those buildings has become contentious: Charter schools in Shelby County can lease school buildings from the district, though advocates, including the Tennessee Charter Center, have contended they should not have to pay rent. Charter schools not in district buildings set up shop in nontraditional spaces, such as old churches or health centers, while still others build their own facilities.

When the ASD takes over a school, it establishes a memorandum of understanding with the district and has free access to the building, though it is responsible for regular maintenance.

Other school districts that have had to close large numbers of buildings in recent years have also struggled to determine what to do with the empty facilities. The Detroit school district, for instance, which has more than seventy empty facilities, has created a website listing all of its empty property for sale.

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