By the time December rolls around, all the residents currently living at Cleaborn Homes will have moved out to prepare for demolition of the public housing development. But that leaves a number of students enrolled at Georgia Avenue Elementary, Vance Middle, and Booker T. Washington High schools most likely changing schools.
Today, the Memphis City Council asked MHA & HCD head Robert Lipscomb about the decision to move families —and the students — during the school year.
"The chair has received numerous calls concerned about the residents and the children being moved from their homes and their schools in the middle of the school year," said council chair Harold Collins. "Initially the chair saw it as a Memphis City Schools issue, but because our division is leading the charge, I thought we needed to publicly hear it."
Lipscomb told council members that the city has typically heard about Hope VI grants in February. This time, however, they did not receive word until June.
"Short-term, there's a bit of disruption. Long-term, we're moving them to a better situation," Lipscomb says. "I don't want to move kids in the middle of the school year, but it's the hand we've been dealt."
Case workers have been assigned to each of the families, but it's slowed down the process for residents eager to move.
"It's about 400 families and they've been ready to move for a long time," Lipscomb says. "They've expressed frustration to us: Why are you holding us up?"
Collins asked how to planned to re-populate the three schools, one of which — Booker T. — is Lipscomb's alma mater.
City Council member — and former school board commissioner — Wanda Halbert noted the city's lack of oversight or accountability from the school district.
"The city is responsible to improve the city," she said. "We can't focus projects and infrastructure around keeping the schools full."
Over the years, outside observers have talked about the school system's need to close schools with dismal enrollment numbers, but it's not a popular topic among school board members or administrators.
Lipscomb said he hoped redevelopment efforts would eventually revitalize area schools.
"Over time, people will come back, but we've got to clean that area up. As we rebuild [Hope VI project Triangle Noir], people will come back," Lipscomb said. "Sprawl is killing us. That's the problem."