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School's Out -- Forever?

MCS board votes to study school mergers.

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After a recent review of utilization rates showed that 56 Memphis city schools were under 70 percent capacity, the district has decided to study merging some facilities.

The MCS board voted June 21st to give the superintendent six months to recommend a process on how to merge schools. The measure passed 7-1.

The dissenting vote came from Commissioner Hubon "Dutch" Sandridge, who reminded the board that they have a commitment to operate community schools. "This board approved a resolution to return to neighborhood schools," he said. "That was the real issue we were supposed to be working toward as a board."

Commissioner Sara Lewis also expressed concern about neighborhoods, saying school closings in the past have effectively killed communities.

Board member Carl Johnson took an opposite course, reminding the board that the district has closed schools in the past only to have to reopen them. He said they once thought they'd never have to build another school in Whitehaven or North Memphis -- the population in those areas was believed to be aging and stagnant -- but that's not the case now.

"I'm hoping we don't get ourselves into the same old, same old predicament," Johnson said. "I think we'd do well to see what we can do to help the schools that need the most help to raise student achievement levels."

Some of the least-utilized schools are also among the 22 schools on the state's corrective action list. Vance Middle School, which was given a "fresh start" last month, is at 50 percent capacity. Another "fresh start" school, Winchester Elementary, is at 57 percent capacity. Only one "fresh start" school, Georgian Hills Junior High, exceeded 75 percent capacity at 93 percent.

The original resolution asked for a recommendation within 60 days but was amended by Commissioner Willie Brooks, Jr. He said 60 days was an unreasonable time period for a thorough review.

Some commissioners were initially concerned that six months might be too long. "We've had resolutions presented before and then we just sat on them. I'm not trying to pressure you," Commissioner Michael Hooks Jr. told the superintendent. "I want to make sure six months doesn't turn into seven months ... or eight months." The superintendent said she and her staff would periodically update the board during the six-month period.

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