The Magic Word 

Things balance out. The "chancery model": Remember that one — the idea of a school system headed at the top by a common chancellor but broken into geographically defined administrative units?

Even as various pundits were still talking up that model for a unified Shelby County school system, the concept was given something of a proper burial last Thursday, when the Transition Planning Commission's governance and organization committee voted it down unanimously.

Inasmuch as that committee contains both of the holdover superintendents of the two merging entities, Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools, and both of the erstwhile board chairmen of those bodies, it would seem that the chancery concept as such will not rise again, especially since it has been abandoned as too expensive and cumbersome in the only clime where it ever held sway: New York City.

Which is to say, some public commentary on the merger situation is well behind the curve.

On the other hand, there was that headline from another local news outlet, which this week proclaimed, with all the certitude in the world, that the unified system was due to be split into six sub-districts. No qualifying terms. No "maybe." No "prospectively." No "tilting-toward-the-idea-of." A done deal, according to that headline. The fact is that neither of the two ad hoc bodies now concerned with directing the ongoing merger toward a conclusion — the TPC or the county Uniform School Board — have as yet made any determination whatsoever of what a unified system should be like.

Which is to say, some public commentary on the merger situation is too far ahead of the curve.

The reality is that of the three possible modes of organization that were under discussion (this side of an outright secession of the suburban municipalities), only two remain under consideration: a centralized, unified structure and another, looser model, which goes by the name of Path to Autonomy, and is understood differently by different people.

Martavius Jones, the former MCS chairman, for example, infers it to be a somewhat modified form of the unified system. David Pickler, the former SCS chair, on the other hand, sees it as meaning something an inch or two short of independence for its various units. (See Viewpoint, p. 17, for Pickler's version.)

The fact is, however, that the mayors of Shelby County's six suburban municipalities made it clear at last week's meeting with the TPC that they are after nothing less than full and complete independence in the form of discrete municipal school districts. Their paid consultants have convinced them that this status can be achieved at minimal cost to their residents and with the school buildings currently in use thrown in for free.

It seems obvious to others, though, that such an idyllic outcome is blocked by formidable obstacles, ranging from guaranteed litigation over the transfer of school facilities to the possibility, as Shelby County mayor Mark Luttrell has pointed out, that fully independent municipal districts may not have automatic access to the county general fund.

Clearly, it is high time for that magic word: "compromise."


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