Merger team in talks with international firm Boston Consulting

Leaders of Shelby County's schools merger transition commission believe that one of the body's first major decisions may well be its most important -- bringing on board a consulting firm to help with organization, coordination and decision making during the process of creating a transition plan for consolidating the county's public schools. Today we had an exclusive story looking at the deliberations an ad hoc committee made in deciding to pursue an agreement with the international firm Boston Consulting Group.

Because of space, we had to cut some of the background on BCG, including details of the two-hour interview conducted with BCG at BRIDGES last week. Read the story for the basics, and see below for more about BCG. Financial details are not yet available, although committee members say that local philanthropists and foundations have made commitments to fund help from a consulting firm.

In last week's interview, BCG emphasized its comfort working in the "fishbowl environment" that is urban education, while stressing its experience guiding hundreds of "substantially complex" corporate mergers. BCG said its education database can draw on best practices from around the world, and has relationships with "subject matter" experts who could help.

J. Puckett, a senior partner and managing director based in Dallas, talked about a recent education conference where "Memphis was the center of discussion."      

"I walked away from that convinced that Memphis as a location offered great potential for for being the next place of change," Puckett said. "That's the reason we are in the room. We believe we can make a difference in places where the conditions are right."

Other firms submitted strong proposals, according to committee members, but Prescott said Wednesday none seemed as prepared as BCG to work with a commission that intends to be active, engaged and very public in creating a plan.

The commission today will hear a presentation from SCS Supt. John Aitken; last week it heard from MCS Supt. Kriner Cash.

There was some discussion of possibly bringing BCG in next week to meet with the commission, if a deal can be reached.

"It's all contingent upon approval of the full commission," Prescott said. "I think everybody is ready to get started."

That, said Johnson, would mean the commission's first "ad hoc committee is about to go out of business." To underscore the mountain of work ahead, Cates half-jokingly said it would just mean "one down, 521 to go."

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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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