Search Suspended For Unified Superintendent; Special Master Speaks

school desk

(Memphis) For the first time, a judge-appointed special master spoke up at the Tuesday school board meeting, providing much needed advice on how to move the process forward.

He first clarified that the notion of a federal judge being able to do “whatever he wants to do” couldn’t be further from the truth.

Even though Shelby County Schools Commissioner Kenneth Whalum Jr. presented a resolution to ask Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays to delay the merger by a year, the special master cautioned otherwise.

The special master, Rick Masson, said that the judge is restrained by state law and a consent order, both which dictate the merger must happen this fall.

“What the judge hopes to you all to do, and the staff as well, is to make decisions.”

Masson acknowledged this work is not easy, and that the 23-member board is in fact very representative of the community.

“We want you all to demonstrate that our community can work together,” Masson said.

But he added, “I’ll be honest with you. I am concerned about the progress that’s being made, particularly in the last week.”

The conversation included discussion of Commissioner David Reaves’ motion to ask the judge to immediately reduce the 23-member board to the seven board members scheduled to take over in the fall.

Reaves suggested this would allow discussions and decisions to move forward more efficiently, but that motion failed.

While last week’s board activity spurred criticism of inactivity, Tuesday’s meeting resulted in several important moves.

The search for a superintendent for the unified school district, which launches in July, was officially suspended.

The search is expected to resume next school year.

The vote by the school board was 18-4.

The company hired to find a new superintendent, Proact, strongly recommended the suspension because it told the board there are too many challenges right now to find the “right” candidate.

The firm said the following reasons were given by possible candidates: school board make-up, district size, salary, and key district personnel. See the picture for the detailed letter.

Dorsey Hopson will continue as interim superintendent.

MCS Superintendent Kriner Cash and SCS Superintendent John Aitken opted to leave early and were paid close to half a million dollars in total to do so.

The board also voted to start the process of closing 10 schools:

Gordon ES (added back on since last meeting)
Lanier MS
Riverview ES
Alcy ES
Graves ES
Westhaven ES
E.A. Harold ES
Northside HS
Carver HS
Westwood HS

Two schools on the list last meeting, Corry MS and Shannon ES, have become ASD schools instead of being considered for closure.

The board then approved outsourcing the MCS custodial contract to the same company that currently services SCS. The company is called GCA.

The outsourcing will save the merged district almost $13 million. GCA will hire 20-30 fewer custodians, and pay a few dollars less per hour.

The board also approved a staff recommendation to use a hybrid model of bus transportation, where the northwest and southwest regions will contract with Durham bus services, while the current SCS fleet will serve the northeast and southeast regions.

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