Tomeka Hart To Seek Unified School System Delay

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(Memphis) Shelby County Board of Education Commissioner Tomeka Hart sent an email to fellow board members sharing her plans to file a resolution delaying the start of the unified school system by one year.

The merged Shelby County Schools begins instruction in August 2013.

Friday, Hart informed board members she will ask to add the resolution in light of legislative bills filed Thursday seeking to lift the ban on new municipal school districts.

Since the suburbs in Shelby County are all interested in forming municipal districts and could do so with these new bills, Hart and other commissioners said it would be impractical to merge for one year only to break apart again.

The discussion will be held during the board's meeting Monday night.

Commissioner David Reaves, who represents North Shelby County, said that several board members have been floating the same idea over the last two weeks.

"I’m not quite sure if we can do it, because I believe it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube once it’s already out," Reaves said. But he said that it would be worth discussing.

Most notably, the school board alone would not have the power to delay the merger. The agreement, outlining a timeline of merging districts by August 2013, was signed by several parties and overseen by a federal judge.

Judge Samuel "Hardy" Mays, along with all parties involved, would have to consent to the delay. The parties include the city of Memphis and the Shelby County Commission.

At least one city councilman, Jim Strickland, has told News Channel 3 the city would never agree to a delay.

The city of Memphis continues to owe Memphis City Schools millions of dollars. If MCS does not merge soon, the city may have to keep paying.

Keith Williams, president of the Memphis Education Association, said, "We would fully support the delay because we know the districts are not prepared to unify, and a one year delay would give all laws time to settle."

The merger requires all salaries in the district to "level up," meaning teacher and administrator salaries have to match the highest pay level currently in the city or county.

One of the biggest reasons for a huge budget gap in the merged system is the leveling of these salaries. Memphis City Schools teachers make more than county teachers, while Shelby County Schools administrators make more than city administrators.

If the merger were delayed, city administrators would have to wait for a raise, while county teachers would wait for a raise.

But the wait will help bring down the amount of money the board needs from the county commission. The number may drop from the current $145 million to about $65 million, according to Reaves.

Parents have mixed feelings.

One Millington mom, whose son goes to Lucy Elementary School, said she did not like the idea of the merger and would support a delay.

Karen Sheen said that she knows her son would have to be part of the merged system if it happened.

"Millington doesn’t have the money to have its own school district. Bartlett or Germantown might get their own school district," Sheen said.

Vivian French's granddaughter is in the same grade as Sheen's son.  But French's granddaughter attends Snowden School in Memphis.

French said she and her family had hoped the merger would improve the state of education for her granddaughter.

When told that officials are considering a delay in order to wait for the suburbs to break off, she disliked the idea.

"Are those break-offs imminent? Are you sure it will be what, within a year? Could it be five years, could it be 10 years?...We’ve got to give access to the best education possible to as many kids as possible," she said.

"If it takes longer than originally expected, there’s just that much more time that that many kids didn’t get access to the best education possible," French said.