Municipal District Law May Affect Merger Process

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(Memphis) Now that Gov. Bill Haslam has signed his name to allow municipal districts to form, some board members working on the merged district are talking about a delay.

Commissioner Kenneth Whalum is drafting a resolution for the board to vote on next Tuesday, asking a federal judge to delay the merger for one year.

The board is currently under obligation to open the merged district in August, but many affairs are still not in order.

Commissioner David Pickler said that certain computer programs like payroll systems and student scheduling are not ready to go.

"Difficult decisions have to be made, we have no time left to make those decisions," Pickler said.

Now that the law allowing municipal districts seems to be built to withstand legal challenges, Pickler said he believes the world in 2014 will look very different.

"The fact that we would go through this merger process, taking up all the cost, taking up all the expense, deal with all the various issues then all have to unwind it after one year; in virtually any other setting be considered foolhardy. But in this alternative reality that is Shelby County, we're now running full speed ahead to a merger that we already know may only last for one year," he said.

Pickler noted that regardless of whether MCS and SCS merge this year or next, they will each face budget gaps.

Dorsey Hopson, interim superintendent of MCS and SCS, said that the staff is preparing for the merged district to open this fall, as planned.

So far, there have been more than a dozen applicants for the superintendent job. The search firm will bring the applicant information to board members in about two weeks.

Meanwhile, those preparing suburban schools have their long to-do list.

Natalie Williams, who was elected to the Germantown School Board last fall, will have to run again if the citizens vote yes in July to create their own districts.

She said the new board members will have to face the following challenges: "We don't have students, we don't have staff, we don't have buildings, we don't have a superintendent or central office staff, and a municipal school district has not been formed in Tennessee in decades. "

Still, she said she's excited to get back out in the community to listen to parents' concerns. The concerns will likely be informed by the recent year of developments and observations of the merger process.

Suburban leaders said that they would schedule a referendum to form and fund municipal districts on July 16. If it passes, citizens can then vote for school board members in early November.