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MSCS board backs land purchase for new Cordova high school under ‘three G’s’ settlement

Some board members raise concerns about capacity: ‘If you build it, they will come.’

A logo bears the words “Memphis Shelby County Schools”

The Memphis-Shelby County Schools board agreed to spend $3.5 million for land in Cordova to build the first new high school operated by the district in a decade.

Ariel Cobbert for Chalkbeat

The Memphis-Shelby County School Board agreed to buy nearly 36 acres of land north of Shelby Farms for a new high school that will accommodate 1,800 students and replace Germantown High School when it closes in 2026.

It will be the first new high school operated by the district in a decade. The site, currently owned by Crews Investment Holdings LLC, is located on Herbert Road, off Raleigh Lagrange Road, in the Cordova area.

Eight of the nine board members voted Tuesday to approve the $3.5 million purchase agreement, though some of them raised concerns about the capacity of the planned building. Board member Kevin Woods was absent.

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The land purchase is one of the first steps in carrying out a settlement approved in December to resolve a decade-long dispute between MSCS and the suburban Germantown Municipal School District and to satisfy a new state law that bars a county school district from operating schools outside its municipal boundaries without an agreement. 

Under the settlement, MSCS agreed to cede control of the Germantown elementary, middle and high school buildings — known as the three G’s — to Germantown, and Shelby County agreed to help MSCS fund construction of a new school in Cordova to accommodate students displaced from Germantown High School. The settlement called for a nine-year transition period.

The three schools serve a student body that is predominantly Black, with a high concentration of students from low-income families.

Board members Stephanie Love and Michelle McKissack backed the land deal, but asked whether the planned high school could be expanded to accommodate a potential increase in students.

“If you build it, they will come,” said Love.

Said McKissack: “Are there plans to present the (Shelby) County Commission with the options of providing additional funds, because it is an area of growth in our community, the Cordova area.” 

Patrice Thomas, MSCS chief of staff, said that the district had only enough resources to support 1,800 students, but that it would work with architects and engineers to provide concrete estimates to accommodate more students.

“We would love to have money for additional expansion,” McKissack said.

The school, which is set to cost $100 million, will be paid for with proceeds from the sale of the current Germantown High property, and $77.5 million from the County Commission. 

Construction is slated to begin in 2024, according to a board document, and the school is set to open in 2026, in time to accommodate the Germantown students who are freshmen now.

In other business from Tuesday’s meeting, interim MSCS Superintendent Toni Williams said the district plans to invest $27.3 million more in teacher salaries next year. 

The agreement was reached after two months of talks between the district’s bargaining team and its two teachers unions: the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association and the United Education Association of Shelby County.

“While we strove for a unanimous vote on all items, ultimately I am extremely pleased that the majority of the conferencing team voted to put an additional $27.3 million in the hands of our teachers,” Williams said in a statement.

Bureau Chief Tonyaa Weathersbee oversees Chalkbeat Tennessee’s education coverage. Contact her at tweathersbee@chalkbeat.org.

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