Memphis district lays groundwork for new buildings strategy, sets timeline for community input

Update, Oct. 28, 2019: Shelby County Schools has scheduled three community input sessions for Monday, Nov. 4; Thursday, Nov. 7; and Saturday, Nov. 23.

Memphis residents will have an opportunity to “reimagine” what school buildings and academic programs will look like — and essentially rework a massive facilities plan left by the former superintendent.

Shelby County Schools will also convene an advisory committee of leaders from the school board, city planners, city and county government, and various neighborhoods to inform a final plan that would go to county commissioners next year for funding.

The new administration felt former superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s plan focused too heavily on buildings and building needs, and not enough on how to improve academics. They also wanted to add community input, which was missing from Hopson’s plan.

The announcement is the first substantial update on an initial plan to consolidate 28 old school buildings into 10 new ones across the city presented by Hopson in December shortly before he left the helm of Tennessee’s largest district.

Deputy superintendents Angela Whitelaw and John Barker told board members Tuesday afternoon that the “Reimagining 901” plan resulting from input from the advisory committee and community meetings would not just be about eliminating maintenance costs.

“Instruction has to be first,” Barker said. But “what we can’t do is put money into buildings that are not going to be useful for us in the long run.”

No specific schools were named in the district’s presentation to board members on Tuesday, but the final plan will still include some of the basic elements of Hopson’s plan, such as combining several aging and expensive buildings into new facilities. District leaders also want to build additions to some overcrowded campuses and close other schools with declining enrollment.

The district is planning on three community meetings in October and November that will include talk about academic needs across the district. Dates and times for the community meetings will be announced soon.

To help plan for district needs, officials provided estimates of what new facilities might cost:

  • Space for 10 classrooms: $6.3 million
  • Elementary school: $23 million
  • Middle school: $26 million
  • K-8 school: $34 million
  • High school: $89 million

District leaders said the final plan could include asking the city government for funding, which currently does not contribute to the Memphis schools budget.

Michael Whaley, a county commissioner who works closely with the district to bring education issues to county leaders, said before going to the city for help, the district and county need a plan.

“Obviously it would be great to get the city involved,” Whaley said. “My opinion is that we need to look at where funding comes from now and ensure we lock in and get that… If there’s a gap, we can both go to the city and other entities and say ‘Fund this gap.’”

Memphis is slated to vote for its city mayor Oct. 3. Incumbent Jim Strickland has not advocated for school funding.

Related: At least 4 Memphis mayor candidates say it’s time to put city money back into K-12 schools

Below is the timeline provided by Shelby County Schools at the committee meeting Tuesday:

  • October 2019: Recruit and invite advisory committee members to meet.
  • October 2019 to November 2019: Conduct three community meetings to get input.
  • November 2019: District presents ideas and concepts to the advisory committee.
  • December 2019 to January 2020: District meets one-on-one with board members to discuss draft concept updates and facility upgrades.
  • January 2020 to February 2020: District presents concepts to city and county governments.
  • February 2020 to May 2020: District attends county budget meetings and discuss. phases of new builds, combinations, additions, and deferred maintenance needs.

To recommend advisory committee members or share ideas on what should be in the final plan, call (901) 416-2100.