Six Memphis-area municipalities are racing to set up fully-operational school systems by this summer. In the month since Shelby County Schools signed lease agreements and settlements to a lawsuit, the recently-elected municipal school boards have hired superintendents, written district-wide policies, and begun to sketch out teacher benefit packages.
Whether the school systems will be able to open by this fall could have big implications for Shelby County Schools. If the school systems do, in fact, open as scheduled, Shelby County Schools could lose more than 25,000 of its students, leaving a hole in its budget that could be as much as $52 million.
But if one or more of the municipalities can’t get its staff hired in time, attendance zones set and classrooms in order on time, Shelby County Schools would have to scramble to accommodate those students.
The district could also lose some of its teachers if the municipalities offer more generous health and retirement packages.
The municipalities’ superintendents met earlier this week to discuss room for collaboration and how to go about creating new school districts from scratch, according to the Memphis Daily News.
Southern Educational Strategies LLC is expected to publish an updated version of a feasibility study at the end of this month to help districts determine how much it will ultimately cost to start up their own district, The Memphis Daily News reported. The boundaries and schools set out in the settlements are slightly different than the boundaries Southern Educational Strategies took into account in a previous feasibility study.
“With the agreements that each town forged with Shelby County Board of Education and the commission, it was with the kids just inside the municipal boundaries,” said Collierville superintendent John Aitken told the Daily News.
In Germantown, the new school board recently held a work session to hash out some of the decisions that still need to be made including where attendance zones will be set and who will collect the garbage at its new facilities. No decisions have been made yet.
Germantown’s enrollment issue is complicated by the fact that some of its residents attend Germantown Elementary, Middle and High Schools, schools that were ultimately retained by Shelby County Schools. The Germantown board is trying to convince those families to transfer into its district rather than staying in Shelby County Schools, which would allow Germantown to keep the per-pupil money that come with them. Lucy Elementary School in Millington will also remain part of Shelby County Schools.
Superintendent Jason Manuel told The Commercial Appeal that Germantown residents will be prioritized in its schools’ open enrollment policies.
Manuel also predicted that the teacher benefit packages such as retirement pay and health insurance in Germantown schools will be comparable to, if not better than, what Shelby County Schools offers. The merged school system has to pay for retirees’ health benefits, while the newer districts do not, Manuel told The Commercial Appeal. Paying for retirees’ benefits proved to be a financial challenge for the East Baton Rouge school system in Louisiana after a few smaller districts were carved out of a larger system there.
The municipalities are still deciding which services to share. Some functions, such as transportation or cafeteria services, or even some personnel, may be shared with the merged Shelby County school system as well, district officials said late last year.
Valerie Speakman, the attorney for Shelby County Schools, said of planning for the new districts to the Memphis Daily News, “This is going to be the most momentous task that this school district has ever engaged in,” she said. “That includes the combination of these two school systems.”