By William J. Busler, Ph.D.
Many residents of Shelby County seem to be unaware of which schools constitute the present SCS system, and which ones would wind up in a given Municipal School District, should suburban residents pass referenda establishing MSD’s. The situation is not obvious, and I got a few surprises myself while doing the research.
THE PRESENT SHELBY COUNTY SCHOOL SYSTEM
There are 52 schools in the present SCS system. They are distributed geographically as follows:
Arlington has 4 (2 elementary, 1 middle, and 1 high); Collierville has 8 (5E, 2M, 1H); Germantown also has 8 (4E, 2M, 2H); Lakeland has 1 (E); Millington has 5 (3E, 1M, 1H); and Bartlett has the most (11). We have 6 elementary schools (Altruria, Bartlett, Bon Lin, Ellendale, Oak, and Rivercrest); 4 middle schools (Appling, Bon Lin, Elmore Park, and Shadowlawn); and of course Bartlett High School.
In addition, there are 15 schools in the unincorporated areas of Shelby County. 13 of these are in the Memphis annexation area, while two (Bolton High School and Barret’s Chapel Elementary) are in the northeast part of the County, which is not in the reserve area of any municipality.
THE UNIFIED SCS SYSTEM PLUS SIX SUBURBAN MSD’s
None of the 6 MSD’s can ever take in any schools that are not already within their boundaries. All the “unincorporated” County schools, except the two mentioned above, would eventually have been annexed by Memphis.
The Unified Shelby County School System will consist of the 220 present Memphis schools, plus the 15 County schools in unincorporated areas.
Ironically, if all the suburban cities form their own MSD’s, the surrender of the MCS charter will result in the MCS system having merged with itself, plus the 13 County schools it would have annexed anyway. The only expansion would be the inclusion of Bolton and Barret’s Chapel. (The schools of any suburb that does not vote to establish its own MSD would also be included in this group.)
There is actually another school system within the County: the “Achievement” District, which includes all the failing schools that have been removed from MCS supervision and will now be administered by the State of Tennessee. Already there are 6 of these; it seems there will soon be about 30 more.
Finally, in recent weeks, approval has been given for the establishment of a number of charter schools in the area.
In this discussion, it has been assumed that Bartlett High School will continue to be our only high school. But at the time the SES consultants released their report this past January, it was considered likely that Bartlett would construct another high school, and estimated the cost for such an undertaking at about $26 million. This would initially be financed by municipal bonds, which would be paid off through the surplus generated by the sales-tax increase.
Proponents of building a new high school, possibly in our northeastern annexation area, cite several reasons: At present, 466 Bartlett residents are zoned to Arlington High School, and 1,118 attend Bolton. These students are expected to attend high school in Bartlett after the formation of the MSD. Even allowing for some students now attending BHS to return to the Unified County system, this will result in a large increase in the BHS population, possibly necessitating some temporary portable classrooms. Finally, BHS is near the extreme west end of the city, requiring long commuting distances for those students from eastern Bartlett.
Mayor McDonald has come out in favor of renovating and expanding BHS, avoiding intra-city rivalries and competition for business sponsorships. Also, two smaller high schools might be below the “critical mass” needed to support certain academic programs. We don’t have to decide this now, but it’s something to think about.