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Memphis school board picks a lawyer to help them scrutinize their superintendent’s contract

Board chairman Chris Caldwell and Superintendent Dorsey Hopson listen to a budget presentation in 2015.
Board chairman Chris Caldwell and Superintendent Dorsey Hopson listen to a budget presentation in 2015.
Kayleigh Skinner

Shelby County Schools board members who have questions about Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s contract are bringing in a top Memphis attorney to help them get answers.

Herman Morris, who was the city’s top lawyer for six years, will act as interim legal counsel to the board, chairman Chris Caldwell said Wednesday.

Herman Morris
Herman Morris

The move marks the first time that the board will have legal representation that’s separate from the district’s. But bringing in a big name doesn’t mean board members are gearing up for a legal fight, said Caldwell, who stressed that the board is not looking to reverse its May decision to extend Hopson’s contract, which began at $269,000, for two years. Rather, he said, board members want guidance about how to work with Hopson under that contract.

“I’m not a lawyer or legal expert,” Caldwell said. “As I’m looking at this contract, which is arguably our biggest contract, it makes good business sense to have legal advice from someone who isn’t also representing the superintendent.”

One of the first questions Morris is likely to face is whether board members can judge Hopson’s performance based on whether the district is achieving its goals, outlined in the Destination 2025 initiative. Two board members, Teresa Jones and Stephanie Love, said they want to take those goals — which the district is far from meeting — into account when evaluating Hopson, but aren’t sure they can under the current terms of the contract.

“The district has changed a lot in five years,” said board member Teresa Jones, an attorney for the city. “I would want to update the contract with Destination 2025, but would need guidance on where that would best fit. And we would want input from the superintendent. It’s his own contract.”

Morris will work with the board on an interim, contract basis while the board prepares to hire a full-time attorney. Members voted in April to do that but have yet to open a hiring process.

You can view Hopson’s contract in full below:

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