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Lee Harris, 39, is Shelby County's new mayor. He campaigned on universal preschool.

Lee Harris, 39, is Shelby County’s new mayor. He campaigned on universal preschool.

Votes are in: Harris is mayor, majority of funding body for Shelby County schools is new

There will be eight new faces on the Shelby County Board of Commissioners this year — not to mention a new county mayor — after this Thursday’s election.

Lee Harris, a Democrat, will replace outgoing Republican Mayor Mark Luttrell, a fiscal conservative who was term-limited after eight years in office. Harris, 39, is a state senator and a graduate of Overton High School and Morehouse College.

It’s also a new era of leadership for the county commission, as seven of 13 county commissioners were either term-limited or did not to seek re-election — and all but three districts were contested races.

The winners are important to public education because they will approve the final budgets for Shelby County Schools, which is Tennessee’s largest district, along with six suburban districts. (Part of the local taxpayer funding approved for Shelby County Schools also gets funneled to schools under the state-run Achievement School District.)

Harris campaigned on expanding preschool in Shelby County. He told Chalkbeat: “Unfortunately, not every family has access to early child education and, worse, for a while our county seemed to be on the brink of losing some of our Pre-K classes. I will work to, finally, fulfill this community’s long-standing desire for universal Pre-K.”  

Several of the commission winners have direct ties to education. Tami Sawyer is a Teach For America administrator who handily won District 7. Mark Billingsley, who won district 5, is Vice President of Advancement at Christian Brothers University. Michael Whaley is the director of the Tennessee Leadership for Educational Equity and won district 4.

The upcoming departure of several commissioners knowledgeable about Memphis schools will leave a void for the new commissioners to fill. They included board chairwoman Heidi Schaefer; David Reaves, a former board member of Memphis City Schools; and Melvin Burgess, an employee of Shelby County Schools.

Commissioners Van Turner and Willie Brooks ran unopposed.

To help you better understand the candidates’ views on local education, Chalkbeat sent out a survey. We asked questions including, “Is there an education-related resolution you would like to pass in the first 100 days?” and what they would do to address the half billion dollars Shelby County Schools owes in building maintenance needs.

Read the winners’ answers: First up are Harris’ responses and then the winners for the county commission below.

The following county commission winners did not respond to the survey questions:

District 1: Amber Mills

District 3: Mick Wright

District 6: Willie Brooks

District 8: Mickell Lowery

District 9: Edmund Ford Jr.

District 10: Reginald Milton

District 13: George Monger

We have included some general information about each of those candidates where possible.