Judge Appoints ‘Special Master’ To Oversee School Merger

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(Memphis) U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays has appointed a 'special master' to oversee the merger of Memphis and Shelby County Schools.

Mays appointed former Memphis CAO Rick Masson to make sure his orders are followed when it comes to planning on the merger which takes place this summer.

The job pays $250 per hour with MCS and SCS splitting the bill.

Masson's job is to get the two sides to cooperate and reach milestones to make sure the merger goes as smoothly as possible.

Recently, critics have said the board has detoured from important topics to those that are more trivial.

Rick Masson has been deeply involved in Memphis and Shelby County ranging from the MLGW Board to Executive Director of Shelby Farms Park Conservancy.

Masson most recently served as an Executive Director of the Plough Foundation.

Masson was not one of the names that had emerged when the suggestion of a Special Master was made last week.

Read the judge's order

Shelby County Schools Commissioner Kenneth Whalum said of Masson, "I can tell you that he's going to be a great team player, and I can tell you the coach of the team is the TPC."

Whalum said the judge should have appointed this person a long time ago. But at this late stage, he does not feel there would be much change to the board's duties. They'll now just have some assistance from Rick Masson.

"I don't think anything will change, except there will now be somebody paid several hundred thousand dollars," Whalum said. He emphasized the contradiction of the school system having to pay for a special master when board members are cutting jobs and outsourcing work in order to fill a huge deficit.

Masson will be paid $250 an hour, what some consider a staggering figure when each board meeting often lasts four or five hours. However, some commissioners said they don't expect Masson to be at every meeting. Others said his presence at those meetings may inspire board members to work faster.

Many who attended Tuesday's board meeting were there to speak against the privatization of custodial workers. Should custodians join one of two competing private agencies, their pay will likely drop by $2 to $3 per hour. Gail Tyree, the assistant director of AFSCME Local 1733, said the high-end of the pay scale is currently about $13 per hour for MCS custodians.

Tyree called the special master's pay "ridiculous," when there are some people fighting to just earn $400 a week.

"I'm at a loss for words. How can you justify that? How can you go to sleep at night, knowing that you can't do the job, and so now we have to pay someone $250 an hour to come in and make the hard decisions?" she said.

None of this is up to the board. Rather, Judge Mays said the number one priority is to select a superintendent. If decisions are not made in a timely manner, he stated in his order that the court can expand the duties and powers of the special master.