Thursday, June 14, 2012

12 Hot Buttons in the Schools Merger Report

Posted By on Thu, Jun 14, 2012 at 2:29 PM

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The Transition Planning Commission released a first draft of its transition plan for the merger of the Memphis and Shelby County schools in 2013. Members were discussing the 198-page report Thursday and scheduled a press conference for Friday morning. Copies of the plan were distributed to the media Thursday morning at the start of what is likely to be an all-day meeting.

Here are a dozen likely hot buttons when the report gets to the public and unfied county school board, which must implement the merger one way or another.

1. “The likelihood of of municipal districts.” This language first appears on page 190. Arguably, it should be in the first paragraph of the executive summary. As the report says, “Enrollment projections will be particularly challenging given school closures, the growth of ASD (Achievement School District) and charter schools, and the potential for municipal school districts.” That and every other projection for a unfied system that could have some 150,000 students if the muni's don't start their own systems, or something closer to 100,000 students if they do.

2. “In 2011, 10 percent of students met the ACT's college readiness benchmark, and 25% scored 21 or better.” The ultimate goal of the plan for a merged system is that every student graduates ready for success in college and career. Ambitious, to put it mildly.

3. “A district wide school transfer policy on a space available basis. The district will continue to support the Optional Programs that exist in the current MCS, as well as unique offerings such as the International Baccalaureate programs in the both school districts.” Holding high-achieving students has been an issue since busing in the 1970s. The optional program accounts for about six percent of MCS enrollment. The schools-within-schools model contrasts with the entrance-by-test-score model for the top public schools in Nashville and other cities.

4. “The TPC recommends that teacher compensation be redesigned to better attract and retain effective teachers.” In other words, no automatic raises for seniority or picking up an advanced degree in summer school.

5. “The analysis indicated an opportunity to close 21 schools for a savings of about $21 million a year.” The schools are mainly in “Western Memphis” but they are not identified. That will be up to the unified school board. For perspective, there are 89 schools with under 80 percent utilization, and 70 of them are in Memphis.The plan recommends doing the deed before school starts in 2013. Never has MCS/SCS closed so many schools at once.

6. “Overall Shelby County public school enrollment is projected to decline 3 percent from FY 2012 to FY2016, resulting in approximately 147,400.” This estimate could be wildly optimistic depending on what happens on August 2nd.

7. “Independent of the merger, the district is projected to face a deficit of $73 million in FY 2014 . . . The merger increased the deficit by $72 million, with the TPC recommending an additional $15 million in investments, leaving the merged system with a starting gap of $160 million.” To close it, the plan recommends $93 million in “net efficiencies” by cuts, closings, outsourcing, and combining functions and “vigorously pursue” additional sources of funds, notably the city of Memphis repayment of $55 million withheld in 2009 and currently in legal dispute.

8. “In recent years, MCS has had large surpluses: 296 teachers in 2010-11 and 621 teachers in 2011-12.” Under the MEA agreement, MCS teachers are currently surplussed in seniority order without consideration of effectiveness. The plan recommends that the district “no longer guarantee jobs to surplussed teachers” and fire them if they are rated “significantly below expectations.” Improving the teacher talent pool is on of the main goals of the plan.

9. “Migrate to the Shelby County Schools model of outsourced custodial services.” Estimated savings: $22-$25 million.

10. Security officers. Currently, MCS spends $13.5 million per year and SCS spends $1 million. The plan recommends continuing to use district-funded security officers and local law enforcement, but raises the prospect of somehow replacing or eliminating 211 crossing guards, which, of course, is one of the primary contact points for public school parents.

11. Both districts have a surplus in their school nutrition departments. In MCS, it has ranged from 6 to 9 percent over the last three years. In other words, the free lunch program, which includes 85 percent of MCS students and 38 percent of SCS students, is a profit center.

12. “The transition office will first need a superintendent named for the 2013-14 school year to manage and lead the merger effort.” At one point in the report, it is suggested that this take place by October 1, 2012, but in another part of the report the superintendent selection is recommended before the fall of 2013. Whatever — “The most important milestone in the implementation of the merger is the first activity listed, the naming of the 2013-14 superintendent.” As of mid-Thursday afternoon, the TPC members were having a vigorous debate about this. More to come in later Flyer reports and blogs.

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