We may not see a fully-elected county school board until Sept. 2014

More dispatches from the InBox, this time from the fine members of The CA's editorial board, asking about some of the logistics of how the 23-member countywide schools board will look. As background, recall that the settlement agreement the parties came to with U.S. District Court Judge Samuel "Hardy" Mays involves a new 23-member board, to take effect Oct. 1, that involves the nine current Memphis City Schools board, the seven current members of the suburban Shelby County Schools board and seven people selected from seven seats the Shelby County Commission officially created with its vote Monday to approve the deal (story on that is here).

That 23-member board, according to the agreement, will govern the two systems during the two-year transition period and also be responsible for adopting a transition plan as recommended by a 21-member transition planning commission under the terms of the Norris-Todd state law that guides transfer of MCS administration to the county. On Sept. 1, 2013, after merger has been completed, the 16 MCS and SCs members would evaporate. The judge has granted the County Commission his blessing to then create a 13-member board.

  • How does Judge Mays' order affect the Shelby County School Board election scheduled for next August involving three current members who are up for re-election?
  • Can current school board members resign their positions so that they can run in the election next August for the 7 new slots in order to extend their stay on the school board past the point at which they would otherwise have to drop off?

The agreement calls for all existing MCS and SCS seats to stay in place until Sept. 1, 2013. Those seats are never again subject to election -- the terms extend by one year for the three SCS and four MCS board seats that would've faced election in 2012. If a vacancy occurs in any of the seats, the Shelby County Commission will appoint someone from that particular district to finish out the term.

The seven NEW seats -- non-MCS and non-SCS -- will be subject to election in August of 2012. The County Commission moved forward with the process to appoint the interim members to those seats, and will have them ready to join the unified board on Oct. 1.

And, yes, the current MCS and current SCS members can indeed run for those countywide seats. As we understand it now, the current MCS and SCS members would not have to resign to run, which could make for some interesting dynamics on the countywide board if an appointed incumbent is being challenged by one of the elected MCS or SCS members.

  • How soon after the new 7-member Shelby County Consolidated School Board takes office in the fall of 2013 can the County Commission expand the board and hold an election to fill the slots?
  • Will the commission have to redraw the boundary lines and form a completely new board, or can it keep some of the original 7 members and hold an election to fill the vacancies?
The (up to) 13-member board can go into effect Sept. 1, 2013. Having talked to some commission members, a likely scenario involves the County Commission sometime early in 2013 passing an ordinance to expand to 13 members. The Commission -- with a 10-3 Memphis majority -- could redistrict the county for 13 seats, declare six seats vacant and appoint them, to take office Sept. 1, 2013. Those six seats are subject to election in 2014.

This is one reason why it may make sense for the current SCS and MCS members interested in staying on the countywide school board (not all of them are) to stand pat and NOT run for the 2012 seats -- they could just keep their political powder dry and hope the Commission will appoint them for the expanded 13-member school board. On the other hand, running in 2012 looks like a no-risk proposition since MCS and SCS members are guaranteed their seats through transition (however, politicians underestimate the risk of suffering a political loss at their own peril -- voters hate the smell of political weakness).
Even after the Commission does the likely expansion and redistricting to 13 seats in 2013, the seven people who are elected in 2012 would stay on until their terms are completed. However, it is possible some of those seven might be affected by the redistricting. If so, they would probably stay in office until the next regularly scheduled election.

Add all that up, and you can conclude that we won't likely have an entirely popularly-elected county school board in place until Sept. 1, 2014. Depending on your view of the judgment of Shelby County voters vs. the County Commission, that may or may not be a good thing.


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As the process for merging Shelby County's schools accelerates into action, we'll provide bonus coverage here at www.MemphisNewsBlog.com, 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 zmcmillin@commercialappeal.com or 529-2564.

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