A cluster of towns that broke off from Shelby County Schools to create their own school systems in 2014 is about to host visitors from another Tennessee town looking into the viability of leaving Hamilton County Schools.
A committee from Signal Mountain, on the outskirts of Chattanooga, is scheduled next week to visit with leaders from Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Millington and Germantown. Along with Lakeland, the six towns have just completed a third year of operating their own school systems, just outside of Memphis.
Signal Mountain is in its second year of discussions about a possible pullout from the Chattanooga-based district. The community has three of Hamilton County’s higher-performing schools, as well as fewer poor and minority students. Its Town Council created the committee in January to look into the feasibility of creating a separate district, which would siphon off both students and revenue from Hamilton County Schools.
As part of their visit, the seven-member panel will hold open meetings with municipality leaders at Arlington High School. Signal Mountain Mayor Chris Howley and Councilwoman Amy Speek are scheduled to join the sessions.
“We felt it was valuable for us to meet with board members and school officials to gain insight on how the process went, what they learned, what they might do differently,” said committee chairman John Friedl.
“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” he added.
The visit will come days after Shelby County’s secessions were spotlighted in a national report on the trend of wealthier and whiter communities to splinter off from larger school systems that are poorer and more diverse. The report was crafted by EdBuild, a nonprofit research group that focuses on school funding and equity. The report also listed Signal Mountain among nine towns across the nation that are actively pursuing pullouts.
The town of Red Bank, which is just east of Signal Mountain, also recently announced it will investigate launching a separate district.
If Signal Mountain residents vote eventually to create their own school system, they would use the same Tennessee law that allowed municipality voters in Shelby County to exit Tennessee’s largest district. The law, which EdBuild calls one of the most permissive in the nation, allows a town with at least 1,500 students to pull out without the approval of the district it leaves behind or consideration of the impact on racial or socioeconomic equity.
Signal Mountain leaders will focus next week on lessons learned by leaders in Shelby County.
After breaking off in 2014, the municipalities gained about 30,000 students, 33 schools and all of the challenges that come with launching new school systems. That includes funding, staffing and facilities. “We all started out with a central office staff of one … and we had to build from there,” Millington Municipal Schools Director David Roper said during a 2015 presentation to state lawmakers.
The Shelby County breakaway also ended up in court over charges that the exit was racially motivated. But a federal judge eventually dismissed that lawsuit by Shelby County Schools.
You can view the full schedule of Signal Mountain leaders’ visit below: