A debate of sorts Tuesday night between David Pickler and Kim Wirth, candidates for the Unified School Board for District 5, made one thing clear: Whoever wins that seat, representing the Germantown-Collierville area, will owe their primary allegiance to the prospective municipal districts there, not to the Unified District itself."
The joint appearance of the two candidates was at La Hacienda Restaurant on West Poplar under the auspices of the Collierville Republican Club.
Asked point blank if they favored establishment of municipal school districts in Germantown and Collierville, both Pickler, the longtime former chairman of the old Shelby County Schools board, and Wirth, a communications executive with International Paper, answered “Yes,” categorically.
Both also professed concern for education throughout Shelby County, and, if elected, pledged to work, as Wirth put it, “as good neighbors toward the goal of great education for all or kids.” But both saw their first duty as being owed to the as yet unformed municipal school districts of Germantown and Collierville.
And each was at pains to advance an even narrower focus. Wirth, who has served as chairman of the board of the Memphis City Schools Foundation and has worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on behalf of the MCS Teacher Effectiveness Program, said she would put her experience to work in a “good faith” effort to insure that the transfer of school buildings from the jurisdiction of the Unified School Board of Shelby County to the municipal districts would be both free and painless.
Pickler also stressed the importance of making over the buildings “without compensation,” contending that in numerous instances in the past that was how schools had passed from the jurisdiction of Shelby County Schools to that of Memphis City Schools, “though we [i.e., county taxpayers] had paid for them.”
He made the case for a concept of “shared services” whereby the Unified School District would bear the responsibility for such functions as transportation, nutrition, and special education and make these services available for schools within municipal districts as well as for those remaining within the Unified School District itself. (One of the points emphasized by Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz in a report made to the Commission Wednesday on likely expenses of new municipal districts concerned the significant add-on cost of such services, if incumbent upon the new districts themselves.)
Both candidates agreed that when the municipal districts are formed the schools within them should be allowed to enroll students living in adjacent unincorporated areas of Shelby County. Both agreed, too, that outlying areas of Shelby County should continue to be represented on the Unified Shelby County School Board even after municipal school districts are formed within those areas.