Memphis Area Mayors: ‘Train Has Left Station’ On Local Schools

Suburban mayors from across the greater Memphis area listened to Transition Planning Commission (TPC) members concerns during a presentation by the mayors, whose municipal governments are laying the groundwork for referendums in the summer that would approve separate municipal school districts.

A delegation of suburban Shelby County mayors on Thursday night assured the commission planning the transition to unified Memphis and Shelby County schools that the “train has left the station” toward breakaway municipal school districts, writes Michael Kelly at the Commercial Appeal.

However, TPC member and corporate attorney Christine Richards, warned that the plan is on a treacherous legal path as officials take steps to establish school districts before the fall of 2013, when the unified school district is set to open its doors.

TPC chairwoman Barbara Prescott also highlighted the concern for children who live in unincorporated areas and have no assurance that they will have schools to attend in the future.

“But the momentum for municipal school districts is strong, the mayors said, and consultants hired to study the issue had made credible arguments that they are financially and legally feasible.”

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell has asked the mayors to see a TPC plan before they move forward with the school district formation.

A plan by the TPC is currently in its early stages of development, but it is thought that it would lean toward a substantial degree of local autonomy for the suburbs.

Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner said that local control would guarantee greater transparency and enhance a sense of ownership in the schools.

“Smaller school districts are more efficient and reflect the common values and shared life experiences in the community,” he said.

“Government is at its best when it is closest to the people it serves.”

Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald said:

“I don’t know how as a politician you’d be able to stand in the way of that.”

Germantown Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy said they now have created an opportunity to “make public education an integral part of our individual communities.”

While the chance to exercise the nimble and flexible qualities of suburban municipalities in the educational arena cannot be passed up, she said:

“All of us have tremendous respect for the challenges of the TPC.”