It’s official now. With the unanimous 7-0 passage Tuesday night by the unified Shelby County Schools board of template agreements with the municipalities of Arlington and Lakeland, the long-standing litigation over new school-district arrangements in Shelby County is fast on its way to conclusion.
Mayor Keith McDonald of Bartlett, who was in attendance,said categorically that his city was eager to follow the lead of his fellow mayors, Mike Wissman of Arlington and Wyatt Bunker of Lakeland, who endorsed the agreements Tuesday night on behalf of their municipalities. Millington and Collierville are also said to be ready to follow suit, and when the School Board convenes again Tuesday night, expectations are that agreements with those municipalities may be ready for a vote.
The situation is cloudier with Germantown, which still hopes to bargain for the retrieval of the three flagship schools — Germantown High School, Germantown Middle School, and Germantown Elementary — that SCS superintendent Dorsey Hopson has included in his projection for the unified district, going forward.
David Pickler, who represents Germantown on the SCS board, voted along his colleagues to support the agreements with Arlington and Lakeland, at least partly in hopes that the technical formulas put forth in them would apply as well to Germantown, forming the basis for his city’s hopes to keep the three flagship schools within the forthcoming Germantown Municipal School District.
Pickler said he would resolutely oppose any effort by SCS to impose anything other than a pro-rated arrangement with Germantown consistent with the template now established. He acknowledged that agreement between SCS and Germantown might not be an immediate thing.
For a variety of reasons, both political and legalistic, the agreements approved Tuesday night do not posit a direct sale per se of school properties by SCS to Arlington and Lakeland, but rather the free deeding over of the school properties in return for specific financial liabilities on the municipalities’ part regarding pensions and OPEBs (Other Post-Employment Benefits) accruing to SCS.
However reckoned, these costs come out to a value of ten cents or somewhat higher on every dollar’s worth of school-property value in Arlington and Lakeland. Calculated on the basis of Arlington’s four public schools and Lakeland’s one, the payments expected of Arlington are $333,333 each year annually for 12 years, or $4 million, and for Lakeland of $56,337 annually for 12 years, or $676,744.
Consistent with the formulas adopted, the board took four votes, one each for transferring school properties to both Arlington and Lakeland, and another two votes on behalf of identical agreements with the two municipalities, the thrust of which is to saddle the municipalities with responsibility to keep faith under penalty of the properties’ reversion to SCS ownership.
The agreements with Arlington and Lakeland, apparently soon to be embraced by Bartlett, Millington, and Collierville, clearly involved a good deal of bargaining.
Board member Teresa Jones, who represents an inner city district, said she began by wanting “the kitchen sink” from the suburbs but came to understand the need for compromise. David Reaves of suburban Bartlett said it was “time to end this battle” — one which began almost three years ago, when the old Memphis City Schools board voted to surrender the MCS charter, forcing the city-county school merger which the county’s six incorporated suburbs sought independence from.
There was something “bittersweet” about the pending resolution of the three-year controversy, said board chairman Kevin Woods, but the second part of that term seemed the operative one for almost everybody Tuesday night.
By prior arrangement, the Shelby County Commission, chief among remaining litigants in contention with the suburbs, will meet Thursday for its own vote on removing Arlington and Lakeland from the scope of its lawsuit.
The same process will undoubtedly be followed in turn for each suburb that accedes to the now-established template for agreement, though the status of Germantown remains uncertain and hard to predict. Pickler acknowledged that quick agreement between Germantown and SCS is "not likely."