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MCS Board Offered A "Compromise" By Shelby County School Board

By Eleanor Boudreau


Memphis, TN – A rumored "compromise" agreement between the Shelby County school board and the Memphis city school board is real, but I'm still putting "compromise" in quotes because it is very unclear what any true compromise could look like--the Memphis school board seems to want to consolidate and the Shelby county school board emphatically does not. But that said, here's what the county board is offering the city board--

First, the Shelby County board wants the Memphis board to rescind its vote surrendering its charter. In exchange, the county will not seek special district status for the next three years.

Then, both boards will get together and select an expert and a team to conduct an 18-month study.

"The team would make a recommendation that would be binding on both boards," said lawyer for the Memphis City School Board Dorsey Hopson. Hopson addressed eight of the nine members at a meeting last night. Board member Tomeka Hart was absent.

If the offered "compromise" team does recommend school consolidation, there will then be a countywide vote.

Hopson pointed out that three important things have happened since he first got the "compromise" from Shelby County.

First, the election commission is going to put the question of handing Memphis City Schools over to the Shelby County school board to Memphis voters in the next 60 days.

Second, Hopson says the state attorney general has opined that only Memphis residents get to vote in that referendum.

And third--and here's the biggie--there was a bill filed by state Senator, Majority Leader, and Collierville resident Mark Norris.

Hopson advised the board that under the Norris bill, even if Memphians voted to consolidate schools, "There'd have to be dual votes." Hopson said, "The majority of county residents would have to vote."

It's this bill that the Memphis board members spent most of their time discussing. Norris has said he won't pass the bill in a rush by Saturday. But he hasn't promised not to pass it after the legislature returns from its recess in February.

Board member Jeffrey Warren said, "We can either have the politics of fear, or we can have some politics of trust. And I, personally, trust what I hear from Mark Norris that they don't want to do anything to hurt our kids."

Warren said if the board attempts to "force"--his word, not mine--a consolidation, "I don't think it will happen. I think we will blow a whole bunch of things up and it won't look pretty. And people will have charter schools everywhere and we will have taken a jewel that is in the process of actually making a major change in urban education in America, and we will blow it up."

Board member Martavius Jones took the opposite view.

"I still fear," Jones said, "there will be laws enacted that will prohibit Memphians from making the decision."

Jones continued, "Memphis is Shelby County. We never seceded from that, and Shelby County Schools is just as much ours as it is non-resident Memphians."

Several board members asked, and their lawyer Hopson repeatedly pointed out, that neither the Memphis City school board nor the Shelby County board can legally prevent the state legislature from doing anything.

The board narrowly voted to hold another session to discuss, and yet another session to vote on the "compromise" offered by Shelby County Schools.