Details of 1990-91 "Morris Plan" for splitting county into several districts

There was a decent amount of talk at yesterday's marathon County Commission school board interview session over the concept of a "Chancellor" model and a few applicants were even well-versed on the history of the so-called "Morris Plan," after former Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris, to split Shelby County into several smaller school districts. One of the key leaders of Morris's "Task Force for Educational Excellence," in 1990-91 was Jim Rout, then a county commissioner and later a two-term county mayor.

Rout is one of 10 finalists for appointment by the Shelby County Schools board to the transition team that is charged with creating a plan to merge Memphis City Schools with Shelby County Schools. So I went looking in our archives for more details on the plan.

After the jump, find a straight copy-and-paste of some articles on that plan.


The Commercial Appeal - Saturday, February 9, 1991

Author/Byline: Guy Reel The Commercial Appeal
Edition: Final
Section: News
Page: A1

An education reform committee Friday proposed creation of at least five school districts in Shelby County . The group also proposed removing control of funding from the City Council and County Commission.

But replacing the city and county school systems could require a state constitutional amendment as well as action by local political bodies, the legislature and even voters.

Even should local citizens prove enthusiastic about the plan, experts say that it could take years - and it is unclear how much this would cost or what the changes in administrative structure would mean for classrooms.

Opposition surfaced immediately to the proposal, which was drafted by a subcommittee of Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris's Task Force for Educational Excellence . The task force was appointed last year to defuse a school consolidation dispute and should meet within 30 days on the subcommittee's ideas.

Robert Brannon, co-chairman of the subcommittee, said the ideas were deliberately made vague to allow for later refinement. The major points are:

-- Several districts would replace the 105,000-student city schools and 35,000-student county school districts. Each new district should have 15,000-30,000 students, requiring anywhere from five to nine districts. Each district would have a board and superintendent.

-- Students would be able to transfer between districts, but no child would be forced to leave his neighborhood school, said Brannon. Desegregation problems could be addressed by establishment of optional schools, encouragement of student transfers and the construction of schools in integrated neighborhoods, officials said.

-- A central authority would take charge of decisions not related to education. It might levy taxes and would handle business such as transportation, construction and personnel. Whether the authority would be elected isn't known.

-- An ''education bill of rights'' could spell out powers of the central authority and the goals and duties of the districts.

Brannon said the proposal raises more questions than it answered.

For example, one goal is to give more power to principals, parents and teachers. But, it's unclear how that would happen.

In many ways, said Luvern Cunningham, the Ohio education consultant who worked on the proposal, the Memphis proposal is unique.

Cunningham said he knows of no other city that has proposed a separate, central finance. He said centralizing some business decisions would save money while leaving education to parents, principals and teachers.

Decentralization has been tried in cities such as Miami, Chicago and New York - and in Memphis, where seven deregulated schools have the right to ask for special considerations.

In Memphis, the schools have used the freedom to ask for changes such as increased time for reading or modified class schedules. The idea is to let people at each school make decisions, rather than be burdened by regulations. How well these reforms work depends on those involved, Cunningham said.

The ideas were backed by such diverse people as consolidation foe Charles Salvaggio and Unity Committee spokesman Brannon. Although the proposal recommends decentralization of education decisions - and had Salvaggio's endorsement in principle - opponents raised the specter of consolidation.

Salvaggio suggested a 30-day evaluation period. Refinements are welcome, Brannon said.

The prospect of consolidation led to formation of the task force last year when Salvaggio and other suburban mayors said they would never support merging city and county schools.

After the ideas were presented, one of the suburban mayors, Collierville Mayor Herman Cox, hurriedly left Friday's task force meeting. Asked his reaction in the parking lot, Cox replied:

''It's consolidation. That's all it is, is consolidation.''

County Commissioner Charles Perkins said the proposals carry an ''astronomical cost, and said several elected school boards would put too much politics in school decisions. He also said the central finance authority smacked of consolidation.

But Brannon and Salvaggio called cries of consolidation attempts to stir up opposition.

Salvaggio said the proposal is the ''opposite of consolidation,'' because it would divide the county into multiple districts, each with its own priorities directed at the students in each community. That would give diverse areas, such as Germantown and the inner city, more say over what their schools need, Salvaggio said.

A key selling point is that parts of the proposal are similar to elements of a reform plan proposed by Gov. Ned McWherter. McWherter wants more site- based management of schools, elected school boards and elimination of thousands of state regulations on how schools are run. Those proposals would mean drastic changes locally, particularly in Shelby County Schools, where the board is appointed by the County Commission.

Brannon argues that it is better for local officials to decide on the structure of schools than to have the state dictate changes.

City school board member J. C. Williams said a plus for the idea is single- source funding for city and county schools.

The city and county schools are funded through the City Council and County Commission, resulting in funding disparites, Williams said.

One option is to let the commission fund the schools but still retain a central school authority that would handle purchasing, construction and other business. Brannon, though, said the commission already has enough to handle.

Caption: photo
By Robert Cohen Rebecca Theobald holds 5-month-old daughter Sarah during the meeting Friday of an education reform task force that proposed at least five school districts in Shelby County . Mrs. Theobald was filling in for Nancy Bogatin, who was out of town.



The Commercial Appeal - Sunday, February 10, 1991

Author/Byline: Guy Reel The Commercial Appeal
Edition: Final
Section: Metro
Page: B1

Will Shelby County voters go for the idea of establishing at least five independent school districts where two now exist?

Do voters want to create five or more school districts where there are now two - plus an ''educational development authority'' to oversee some purchasing, finance, transportation and personnel matters for all the districts involved?

How would this reshuffling improve education?

Those are some of the questions raised by a proposal revealed Friday that was drafted by a subcommittee of Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris 's Task Force for Educational Excellence. The task force was charged last year to decide whether to change schools or leave them alone in the wake of a school consolidation debate that split the county.

The question might even be raised whether the task force really believes in these proposals, which subcommittee co-chairman Robert Brannon said were kept deliberately vague to invite changes.

No one will know until the complete task force takes a full look at the ideas, probably within 30 days. Modifications are probable.

Some leaders see pitfalls such as increasing bureaucracy, higher cost and racial divisions. Supporters say that's old- school thinking. Brannon said leaders should back away from the old ideas of managers who lead from the top of a sprawling bureaucracy.

However, even supporters agree that some costs will rise under the proposal. The multiple superintendents and staffs mean more money spent on administration, said County Commissioner Charles Perkins.

Brannon, however, argues that smaller districts would be left to focus entirely on education, since business functions would be centralized. That would mean fewer administrators, he said. The districts would then provide better schooling by leaving decisions closer to principals, teachers and parents, he said.

''I would rather pay six superintendents than 100 administrators. You'd have six superintendents at maybe $80,000. In a $430 million budget, you can sneeze and that much goes away,'' he said. The $430 million figure is roughly the combined budget of city and county schools .

Brannon said the idea would increase costs in some areas, save in others. Centralizing items like finance, transportation and construction means they ''can be done less expensively than done now by two systems operating entirely separately,'' he said.

Collierville Mayor Herman Cox says another bureaucratic layer would be added by the proposed ''educational development authority'' that would oversee business matters for all districts. That authority might have taxation powers.

That scares some consolidation opponents, who see a central authority as a disguised way to run and consolidate city and county schools . The threat of consolidation led suburban mayors including Germantown Mayor Charles Salvaggio to threaten secession from Shelby County last year.

However, Salvaggio and County Commission Chairman Jim Rout said these ideas sound like the opposite of consolidation. That's because more districts would mean more schooling independence, they said.

That brings up an objection by city school board member Carl Johnson, who said creating school districts in different areas - white or black, poor or wealthy - could splinter Shelby County.

''You might have five different sets of criteria, five different goals,'' Johnson said. ''We're looking at creating racial and ethnic subdivisions in Shelby County. It's inevitable given the housing patterns we have. We're setting ourselves up for a really civil kind of struggle, real turmoil for this community much worse than the idea of secession.''

Cox said he also objects to elected school boards. Gov. Ned McWherter favors elected boards, and the multiple boards under the task force ideas would probably be elected. That would create 40 or more new political jobs in the county - a prospect that would politicize education even further, Perkins said.

An appointed school board would be far better, said Cox. ''You can get far better people. You've got an elected board in Memphis - just take a look at it.''

Rout said the ideas provided a good framework for discussion. Commissioner Pete Sisson remarked, ''Let's don't pooh-pooh it too quick. It may have value.''

How much chance do the proposals have?

''Very few citizens would vote for this,'' Johnson said. ''Very few well- thinking and benevolent political leaders would support it.''

Rout said that remains to be seen. Concepts may be changed, he said. For example, the County Commission could retain taxing authority instead of giving it to the education authority.

''There is a possibilty it can occur, but there is a strong possibility it's going to fall out along the way,'' he said. ''The key to it is that going in, we go in with the attitude that we're going to try to work through our particular positions for the benefit of the kids.''


The Commercial Appeal - Thursday, July 4, 1991

Author/Byline: Guy Reel The Commercial Appeal
Edition: Final
Section: News
Page: A1

Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris's education committee has unanimously endorsed a plan that would dissolve Memphis City Schools .

The 62-member countywide task force Wednesday called for single-source school funding of four school districts - three in the city and one in the county - each with a school board and superintendent. The plan aims to return school decision-making to parents, teachers and principals, backers said.

Some members of the Task Force for Educational Excellence who voted for the proposal still have strong reservations, however, and won't completely support the plan without revisions. The motion approved Wednesday calls for the group to settle areas of concern and to build a community consensus.

Morris appointed the Task Force for Educational Excellence 16 months ago after city and county residents split over a proposal that could have resulted in the consolidation of the city and county schools . To block consolidation, suburban mayors threatened secession from the county. The goal of the task force was to arrive at school restructuring acceptable to all.

Implementing the plan could be a lengthy, difficult process, however. Task force attorney Elijah Noel said the plan probably would require special state legislation and a referendum in Memphis to surrender the city schools ' charter.

School decentralization is a trend in some areas. But opponents worry about waste, and some say the systems must coordinate. Morris said he would try to report back to the task force in 30 days on efforts to work out differences. He said it may take a year to put the plan in place.

The proposal calls for creation of three districts in the city, each of 35,000 students. The county schools system would remain intact until it reaches a yet-to-be determined population. It then would split into two districts, probably by the late 1990s.

It also calls for single-source school funding under the Shelby County Commission. That would eliminate separate City Council funding of city schools and County Commission funding of city and county schools .

A key sticking point is how the districts would coordinate. Consolidation opponents don't want a central authority overseeing the districts. But some said there should be a way to coordinate and consistently apply the districts' practices and policies.

The task force 's governance committee suggested a staff member, named by the mayor, could handle the central administrative planning.

But city school board president Maxine Smith wants a central governing body, perhaps with elected representatives from each district.

Many county school officials, however, would resist any plan that would transfer power to representatives from the city. Shelby County school board member Carolyne Bobo also said county task force members want to eliminate as many top layers as possible.

Morris called Wednesday's vote a major step forward, but at least one task force member who voted for the concept, City Council member Florence Leffler, said she can't support the heart of the recommendations calling for multiple school districts.

Mrs. Leffler said the motion was phrased so that no one could have voted against it. City Council member A. D. Alissandratos made the motion that the plan be endorsed - but the motion said all concerns about the plan are still on the table.

Mrs. Leffler said four or five school bureaucracies would result in confusion and unnecessary expense.

NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Richard Fields said the proposal could resolve desegregation lawsuits against both the city and county schools . He said concerns about segregation could be addressed by integration incentives. Some of those include magnet schools or interdistrict transfers.

The governance committee is co-chaired by Germantown Mayor Charles Salvaggio and school unity proponent Bob Brannon.

Brannon said he thinks officials have reached the halfway point in achieving the goal of meaningful school reform. Salvaggio acknowledged that differences remain but said they are ''not so monumental they can't be addressed.''

Morris said he thinks the community is coming together.

''What we have is not working. It's time that we put the kids ahead of the political divisiveness of the past,'' he said.

Caption: chart
Staff Proposal for school restructuring The chart shows a school reform plan endorsed in principle Wednesday by the countywide Task Force for Educational Excellence. Parts of the proposal to replace city and county school systems with at least four districts are opposed by some task force members. Members will try to resolve differences over the next few weeks. Shelby County Commission The County Commission would be responsible for funding of all school districts. A staff member, appointed by the county mayor with the commission's approval, would handle administration of finance, personnel, purchasing, maintenance, construction and data processing. City School Districts Three districts would be drawn, boundaries to be determined, each with about 35,000 students and each with its own board and superintendent. County School Districts One district until the Shelby County Schools population reaches a yet-to-be determined population, probably by the late 1990s. The district would then be split. Responsibilities of school boards and superintendents The school boards, with the superintendents, would develop educational policies for each district. Superintendents would hire and fire principals, who would be responsible for teachers. The idea is to give local control to schools , while centralizing purchasing and support. Source: Task Force for Educational Excellence


The Commercial Appeal - Sunday, November 10, 1991

Author/Byline: Cornell Christion The Commercial Appeal
Edition: Final
Section: Metro
Page: B1

A proposal for multiple school districts in Shelby County has been stalled by uncertainty over statewide education and tax reform.

An education committee appointed by County Mayor Bill Morris in July unanimously endorsed a plan that called for creating four independent school districts, each with a superintendent and school board.

The Task Force for Educational Excellence also called for single-source funding for local schools under the Shelby County Commission. Memphis City Schools and the City Council's role in school funding would have been dissolved.

However, action has not been taken since a judge ruled that the state's funding of education is unconstitutional because it denies students in poorer school districts equal access to a quality education, said Tom Stone, Morris's aide. The ruling may force massive reform of the state's education and tax system.

Stone said the task force has not met since a subcommittee meeting July 26, a day after Davidson County Chancellor C. Allen High issued the ruling.

''Everything kind of went on hold,'' Stone said.

State lawmakers have failed to reach a consensus on how to fund education reform.

Most restructing on the local level would involve money, Stone said.

''And we have to see how decisions reached by the General Assembly on school reform affect what we can do,'' he said.

The 62-member local task force was appointed Jan. 26, 1990, after a storm of protest erupted over a proposal to merge the city and county school systems. Suburban mayors threatened secession from the county to block consolidation. The aim of the task force was to develop a compromise school restructuring plan acceptable to all.

The plan the group came up with calls for creating three school districts in the city, each with about 35,000 students. The county school system would remain intact until it reaches a yet-to-be determined population, probably by the late 1990s.

No agreement was reached on how the districts would coordinate. Some have called for a central authority to oversee the districts. But Stone said a consensus still has not been reached on that issue.

He said that since July he has been in touch with some key task force members by phone and that sentiment remains strong in favor of multiple school districts.

However, Robert Brannon, an early backer of a countywide school system and co-chairman of the task force 's governance committee, said, ''I haven't heard anything from anybody in three months.''

Bartlett Mayor Bobby Flaherty, a task force member, said he hadn't heard anything either. However, like Stone, he said the group's hands are tied by the uncertainty of state reform efforts.

Flaherty said some state proposals could dictate such concerns as how school superintendents and board members are seated or force some form of city-county school consolidation.

Since the local task force was formed, a broad-based effort called Memphis 2000 has been launched to meet certain education goals by the next century.

The local initiative, coordinated by Goals for Memphis, is a version of the America 2000 education plan introduced by President Bush this year. Bush's plan encourages communities to develop strategies for meeting six national education goals.

Those goals include increasing the high school graduation rate to 90 percent, leading the world in math and science achievement, achieving literacy for all adults and freeing every school from drugs and violence by the year 2000.

The Memphis effort also includes the additional goals of ensuring that current students have an equal chance to learn and achieve and enabling parents to accept educational responsibility for their children.

Stone, who is on the Memphis 2000 steering committee, said it does not appear that the task force and Memphis 2000 will butt heads because one deals with school system restructuring while the other primarily focuses on improving academic achievement.

He said the efforts could remain separate or eventually link under the same umbrella.


This is certainly the third post, of yours I really checked out.
But I actually enjoy this one, “Details of
1990-91 "Morris Plan" for splitting county into several districts - Eye on Schools Merger” the
very best. Thanks -Maximilian

Leave a comment

Type the characters you see in the picture above.

  • About

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.

  • Zack McMillin on Twitter