With the approval Tuesday night of agreements allowing three more suburban municipalities — Millington, Collierville, and Bartlett — to acquire school buildings and proceed with establishing their independent school districts, the unified Shelby County Schools board needed only to reach some sort of understanding with Germantown, still aggrieved over the unified system’s intent to keep three flagship schools.
But, though SCS board member David Pickler, who represents Germantown, still holds out hope of retaining the schools — Germantown High School, Germantown Middle School, and Germantown Elementary — sentiment seems to be building on the newly elected Germantown school board to bite the bullet and accept some version of SCS superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s terms.
That’s what’s on the grapevine, anyhow, though hold-fast sentiment still exists in Germantown civic and political circles and could re-assert itself.
But meanwhile the SCS board took little time, during a special called meeting following its regular work session Tuesday night, to confer unanimous approval on agreements and school-property transfers to the three municipalities, whose school boards are expected to reciprocate as soon as feasible.
The terms of the agreements are identical to those agreed upon between the SCS board and Lakeland and Arlington — 12 years worth of installment payments, equaling in each case to a total that is something like ten cents on the dollar of the property being made over.
And, in the case of the three new municipalities as with Arlington and Lakeland previously, the agreement template is structured so as to avoid any reference to a sale per se. In theory, and perhaps also in practice, the monies owed by the municipalities will be earmarked for offsetting the costs of post-employment benefits accrued by the SCS system.
The precise obligations are:
*12 annual payments of $672,193 by Bartlett, for a total of $7,298,316;
*12 annual payments of $507,819 by Collierville, for a total of $6,093,828;
*12 annual payments of $230,219 by Millington, for a total of $2,762,628.
As with the prior agreements, the school properties would revert to SCS upon any meaningful default by one of the contracting municipalities.
All parties on both sides of the bargaining line — again, with the exception, so far, of Germantown — seem satisfied, though the total sums that might be collected by SCS — including those forthcoming from an agreement with Germantown — add up to far less than the $57 million that is still owed to SCS (as the successor to the defunct Memphis City Schools) by the perpetually delinquent City of Memphis.
Perhaps everybody is just ready for a time-out. Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz, the Germantown Republican who, before, during, and after his one-year chairmanship, spearheaded the Commission’s litigation efforts against (and bargaining with) the suburbs, certainly is.
“It was an intense, focusing, and necessary effort for us,” said Ritz, “but it was time for a settlement.”
Ritz confided Tuesday that he had experienced a fair degree of hostility and ostracism from certain of his fellow townsfolk during the last three years of legal struggle between the Commission and the suburban municipalities. He saw the outcome balancing out — with the state legislature boosting the suburbs’ case and the courts, personified by presiding federal judge Hardy Mays, issuing rulings that strengthened the Commission's hands.
He sees Judge Mays signing off on the agreements as soon as they are complete between the SCS board and the municipalities, and, since the Commission and Memphis City Council intend to drop litigation as the suburbs concur, through formal action by their newly elected school boards, the case will soon be at an end, some three years after it began with the December 2010 surrender by the old Memphis City Schools board of the MSC charter.
The County Commission is likely to drop its former intention to expand the number of SCS board members from the board's present component of seven, Ritz said, and he expressed confidence in the “new faces” that largely populate the current board ensemble.
At some point, the Commission will probably seek to draw new district lines for the Shelby County School district, leaving the territories of the six suburban municipalities outside the lines and requiring a reshuffling of the SCS board's membership, Ritz said. but he specified no timetable for such an action.