School's out for summer, but the future-of-our-school-systems story is just getting warmed up and there will be no vacation for school board members, Transition Planning Commission members, and suburban elected officials and voters.
Here are some key dates to watch and some analysis of what will be known and unknown after each date.
On Tuesday, May 29th (after the deadline for this column), the elected boards in Germantown, Collierville, Arlington, Bartlett, Lakeland, and Millington will decide whether to hold referendums on August 2nd to establish and fund municipal school systems.
What will be known: whether there are any dissenters to what seems to be overwhelming support for "munis." If the boards approve, organized campaigns will begin to take shape. The specific language of the referendum will be drafted. And news media can stop talking about referendums as a hypothetical, as we have done for more than a year.
What won't be known: whether the funding, expected to be a 15-cent increase in property taxes and a half-cent increase in local sales tax, will be enough to fund the municipal system that may or may not have to pay a considerable sum for existing buildings.
On June 11th, the 23-member unified Shelby County school board meets in a specially called meeting to consider the employment contract of Memphis superintendent Kriner Cash and, possibly, Shelby County superintendent John Aitken. Billy Orgel, chairman of the unified board, called for the meeting last week. It immediately met with an objection from board member Martavius Jones, who said it was premature, but as of now the meeting is on.
What will be known: Cash has a contract until August 1, 2013. He opposed the merger and has applied for at least one other superintendent's job. The board could ask him to publicly state his intentions, invite him to apply for the job as leader of the unified system in 2013, tell him he has no chance, or invite him to leave early with a buyout.
What won't be known: who will lead the unified system as superintendent in 2013. Aitken is under contract until February 2015, but the current Shelby County system excludes 103,000 students in Memphis. The unified board could invite candidates other than Aitken and Cash to apply for what is sure to be one of the most unusual and scrutinized education jobs in the country.
By mid-June, the 21-member Transition Planning Commission (TPC) aims to have its full set of recommendations on a merger plan. The commission, which includes Shelby County mayor Mark Luttrell, Bartlett mayor Keith McDonald, and some members of the unified school board, has been meeting for eight months.
What will be known: which suburbs are going to hold referendums in August, and after that it gets tricky. The TPC is planning for a unified system of up to 150,000 students while knowing full well that the suburbs may not become part of it.
What won't be known: whether the suburbs will break away, and whether the unified school board will accept the TPC recommendations, which are just that, on such controversial issues as closing schools and outsourcing. The TPC says the plan will "evolve" over the summer.
On August 2nd, there will be elections in Shelby County. Suburban voters will decide whether to establish separate school systems. And there will be a countywide election for seven spots on the unified school board. In September, the seven winners will replace seven people appointed as interim members by the Shelby County Commission. Some of the winners could be people already serving on the unified board. Calling this confusing would be an understatement.
What will be known: the willingness of suburban residents to tax themselves an unknown amount for a separate school system. This is the big one. If all six suburbs or even if only three of them go muni, it will be a devastating blow to the unified system.
Also known will be the names of the seven members of the unified school board that will govern a system that may or may not include suburbs. As of September 1, 2013, the terms of the 16 board members who formerly served on the Shelby County and Memphis school boards will expire. The seven members elected in August will constitute the Shelby County Board of Education and govern the combined school system. After September 1, 2013, the Shelby County Commission can expand and redistrict the school board so that it will consist of not more than 13 members.
Hey, no one said summer school was going to be easy.