Bartlett Schools: Referenda and Beyond, Part 1

By William J. Busler, Ph.D.

On August 2nd, the County-wide ballot will contain two extremely important referenda for all citizens of Bartlett. It is not an exaggeration to say that these decisions are among the most crucial we will ever have to make, and the outcome of the election will forever affect our quality of life in many ways.

The first referendum deals with the establishment of a Municipal School District (MSD) in Bartlett. The second would approve a 0.5% increase of the sales tax within Bartlett, related to the funding of the Bartlett School System.

In preparation for these referenda, the Bartlett Express has asked me to prepare a series of eight brief articles in an effort to clarify the issues and to let everyone understand the implications of this important election.

HISTORY and OVERVIEW

About a year and a half ago, the Memphis City Schools (MCS) Board voted 5-4 to surrender their charter, effectively merging it into the Shelby County Schools (SCS) System. The principal supporters of this move were Chairman Martavius Jones and Tomeka Hart. This vote was then approved by the City Council and the voters of Memphis.

Federal District Judge Samuel Hardwicke (Hardy) Mays presided over the details of the merger, including the establishment of a Transition Planning Commission, and ultimately a 13-member Board to oversee the new “Unified” District, which is scheduled to begin operations in August 2013, with an estimated 159,000 students.

Meanwhile, the six suburban cities in Shelby County – Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland, and Millington – have with varying degrees of intensity begun to pursue the goal of establishing their own MSD’s, effectively seceding from the Unified District. Originally, a referendum to do this in each city was planned for May 10th, but a Tennessee Attorney General’s contrary opinion delayed the vote until August 2nd, in conjunction with the sales tax referendum and the County general election.

HOW DOES THE MERGER AFFECT US?

The MCS system consists of about 103,000 students in 220 schools. The SCS system has about 56,000 students in 52 schools. Following its charter surrender, the MCS system is being merged into the SCS system, creating a “Unified” SCS system of 159,000 students in 272 schools – one of the largest in the nation. The SCS Board is being expanded from 7 members to 13. Probably 9 members will be from within the city of Memphis, while 4 will be representing the suburban areas. This is the system we will have if no MSD’s are formed.

THE MSD REFERENDUM

If the citizens of Bartlett approve this question, the City of Bartlett is authorized to establish a new Bartlett School District, encompassing 11 schools and about 9,000 students. A five-member School Board will be elected on the November 6th ballot, and will as soon as possible thereafter appoint a Superintendent. The Superintendent will then select the administrative staff and faculty for each school, with the goal of opening in August 2013.

It is extremely important to remember that the status quo – Bartlett Schools being operated by an all-suburban County Board overseeing 56,000 students – is no longer an option. There will be only two possibilities after August 2013:

1. The 11 Bartlett schools will be administered, along with 263 other public schools within Shelby County, serving a total of 159,000 students, by the “Unified” Board (9 from Memphis, 4 from the suburbs).

2. There will be a Bartlett Municipal School District, consisting of 11 schools and 9,000 students, administered by a Board of 5 members, all of whom are citizens of Bartlett.

Next: Financing the Bartlett MSD

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