Two Cheers for the Unified School Board



One crisis at a time. One year at a time.

That's how the Unified Shelby County School Board played it. And nobody knows better than the 23 members how much was left on the table. This was an 11th-hour budget of necessity, cobbled together under pressure and the eye of a court-appointed special master.

Nobody expects the unified school system, the budget, or the board to look the same a year from now. Interim superintendent Dorsey Hopson will probably be gone. A majority of the board members will be gone. The suburbs will probably bolt, taking with them perhaps 30,000 of the estimated 2013-2014 enrollment of 138,629 and tens of millions of dollars of funding. School closings were largely sidestepped. The former MCS has ten high schools where the enrollment is projected to be 550 or less next year. The lowest projected enrollment at a former Shelby County high school next year is 1,300.

What if the MCS board members who voted to surrender the charter had tried to save the unified system, suburbs included, instead of hunkering down, nitpicking the superintendent search process, and criticizing the transition report? What if John Aitken had been offered the job of superintendent six months ago? What if Judge Hardy Mays had appointed a special master a year ago instead of waiting so long? What if some of the suburban board members had said "we should give this a shot"?

It doesn't matter now. Stalemate was not an option. The board deserves two cheers for coming up with a proposed $1.18 billion budget, implementing a version of the 172-point transition plan, doing a ton of homework, attending hundreds of hours of meetings late into the night, and taking public criticism from all sides. And they did it for pennies compared to the six-figure pay packages for corporate directors for rubberstamping the policies of the CEO with zero scrutiny.

At Thursday's session, which featured a new seating chart, there seemed to be genuine affection as well as mutual respect among members who barely knew each other a year ago. That counts for something. As Hopson said, they did as well as they could.

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