Merger leaders want to spread message that it will limit disruptions at top schools

While the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leaders spent a lot of time explaining the weighted formula it uses to allocate resources to schools -- essentially, more money goes to schools with the most challenges, Shelby County's schools merger Transition Planning Commission held a committee meeting before Monday's merger forum in which it discussed ways to reassure parents at our more affluent, higher-performing schools.

That committee had members from the suburbs, from the city, from parents of children at elite private schools. School board member Martavius Jones, a key leader in Memphis's drive to force consolidation by surrendering the Memphis City School charter, said the discussion focused on fighting speculation the merged district would force radical changes on the county's top-performing schools: "It's been my contention that for those students in (high-performing) schools, it's going to be minimal disruptions. ... I don't think it's anyone's motivation to create mass chaos." But Jones said the committee discussed ways to quickly get a robust message out soothing fears: "Without that, you can let people's imaginations run wild," Jones said.

Joe Clayton, a Shelby County schools school board representative who left public education during desegregation to run a private school, brought up the fears he's hearing in the suburbs, and while the leaders from Charlotte may have been proud of things like "strategic staffing" and "weighted student staffing," Clayton identified  suburban fears as a potential impediment to such strategies. Especially, Clayton pointed out, given the potential of more affluent municipalities choosing to opt out entirely.
 
Bill Anderson, now serving as executive director of Charlotte's public-education foundation MeckEd, was unflinching in promoting Charlotte-Mecklenburg's appproach. Anderson also served as principal in nearby Shelby, where his high school in 2003 was named one of the top 10 in America by Newsweek; Anderson was also in Shelby when it merged with the county school system there, Cleveland County.

"When you look at our district on an interactive map and you look at one elementary school in the inner city is getting about $10,000 a student and another school way in the suburbs in a more affluent area is only getting $5,0000 per child, that might rub some folks the wrong way. But our community is willing to have those very difficult and open decisions, that the playing field is not level and that some schools and some students deserve more."

Anderson finished his point by saying: "We as a community and I think as a society and a country in general, have not accepted the fact that every kid is our kid. We still tend to think that there's some kids that live over there, they are not our kids."

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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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