Shelby County school board members are considering keeping onboard a Memphis lawyer they had hired last summer to advise them on matters that might conflict with the interests of the district or superintendent.

Herman Morris

Herman Morris Jr. was hired by the board in August to help members negotiate terms of Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s contract. The board at the time indicated that it was advantageous to use an outside lawyer — one that did not also represent the superintendent and district.

A proposal to extend Morris’s contract for a year is up for discussion Tuesday, with a likely vote next week. Shelby County Schools estimates his services would cost $80,000 a year. He would be paid out of the board’s budget, and his contract must be reviewed annually.

The district has its own lawyer, Rodney Moore, but Morris would represent the school board, the district’s governing body. Such an arrangement is not uncommon among school boards. Board member Chris Caldwell said hiring a lawyer would assist the board in using “good business judgment.”

“Our roles diverge at times,” Caldwell said. “So the advice of a legal counsel to look at something through the board’s perspective” might be different from that of the district’s counsel. They “might also be diametrically opposed to each other,” he said.

For instance, some board members want to add to Hopson’s contract accountability for district objectives like its overarching Destination 2025 goals for literacy and preparing students for life beyond high school.

Morris, a Memphis City Schools graduate, worked as an attorney for the city of Memphis for six years and also led Memphis Light, Gas, and Water. He is also a previous chairman of the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce and former president of the Memphis Branch NAACP.