One possibility: The roles of the suburbs and the city of Memphis, at least as far as taxes, are reversed in three years. Memphians would pay a single county tax for schools and no longer pay a city property tax for schools. Residents of, say, Germantown would pay the county tax and a separate municipal tax for a Germantown school system.
The county school tax would spread the tax burden over a wider base, so it would be lower for Memphis and higher for the county outside of Memphis. We don't know what the cost of starting a suburban special school district would be, but let's say for the sake of discussion that it raises the tax rate $1 to pay for buildings, transportation, teachers, etc. No way they get their buildings for free. Memphis residents such as school board member Martavius Jones will demand just compensation for their share of tax support.
That makes two tax hikes for the suburbs if they go to special school districts. Residents with children in private schools would pay three times for schools. Residents with no school-age children might decide to move somewhere with lower taxes. Residents with children in the newly created special school district would get the benefits, whatever they are, and the bills.
Let's say that Bartlett and Collierville also start special school systems. Would the three suburban sisters not wind up competing with each other — and with the private schools nearby? I believe they would. And they would be competing for a limited pool of potential students. Greater Memphis, remember, is not growing much, if any. Suburban growth is driven by flight.
My guess is that there is room for one suburban special school district but not three. A high-performing municipal school system in Germantown would be a strong selling point and potentially a magnet for flight to quality. The undercurrent would be that the system is far apart from the "madness" or "chaos" of the giant county school system and all those Memphians on the new school board.
I see Collierville remaining pretty much as it is, post merger. I see Bartlett losing students to Arlington and other schools. I see private schools recruiting public school parents to offset enrollment declines driven by the economy and the high price of private school.
The Shelby County school board meets Wednesday afternoon. Will the board say to the federal court ruling "hell no" or will it decide that appeals are fruitless and resolve to make a good faith effort to make the merger work? We should know more after that meeting.
Judge Hardy Mays said the issue of special school districts in the municipalities was not yet ripe. But, as my colleague Jackson Baker said to me this morning, it is like a peach on your windowsill that is about to get ripe real soon.