Is huge countywide school board such a bad idea?

Our Shelby County government reporter, Daniel Connolly, has done a fabulous job explaining what is happening with the Shelby County Commission's push for an expanded countywide Shelby County Board of Education in preparation for a March 8 vote to merge Memphis schools with those in the suburbs (see here and here). Much mirth is being made over the proposed size of the board -- right now it's 25 but seems likely to shrink when the county gets census figures almost sure to show a greater proportion of the county's population in the suburbs.

Certainly that's much larger than the current seven-member suburban-only Shelby County Schools board and also the nine-member Memphis City Schools board. With 16 total members for about 150,000 total students, the sum of the two systems board members is still smaller than the proposed new board. An important point -- the commissioners are saying up front they want to eventually shrink the size of a unified countywide board to a more manageable number. But is that such a great idea? Much is being made, especially from suburban opponents of the merger, about the need for more neighborhood accountability and empowerment. Going by that logic, would you not want fewer voters per school member?

Talk amongst yourselves about that one. In the meantime, also consider the size of boards for private schools. Putting ye olde Google machine to use, see the following schools and their number of board members.
  • Briarcrest: 16 members of their Board of Trustees.
  • Christian Brothers: 18 board members.
  • Harding Academy: 18 board members, plus 11 alumni board members.
  • St. Mary's Episcopal School: 25 board members, plus another nine ex-officio, at-large or emeriti members.
If you applied those per-pupil numbers to public schools in Shelby County, we'd be talking about hundreds of board members.


Why not just expand the MCS board, vote "NO" to the surrender, and call it a day.

State law TCA 49-2-201 clearly calls for a board of not less than 3 nor more than 11. What's the problem? Again, MCS gave up the charter, therefore there is no more MCS school board. The administration goes to shelby County. They are too weak to take on the task, guess we are all in trouble.

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As the process for merging Shelby County's schools accelerates into action, we'll provide bonus coverage here at, with a particular focus on the 21-member transition team and the 23-member unified school board. Comment early and often. If you have any tips or suggestions you wish to share, contact Zack McMillin at or 529-2564.

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