Bartlett's McDonald Willing "to Die by the Sword" of School Independence



Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald
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  • Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald

Although he is one of the 21 members of the school-merger Planning Commision created by the Norris-Todd bill, Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald leaves very little doubt that he intends a more independent course for his city’s schools than the “large, homogenized:” system that would result from a totally amalgamated city/county school system.

After spelling out what he saw as Bartlett’s public-school options to attendees at a “town hall” session at the Bartlett Municipal Center Monday night, McDonald sketched out his preference, a municipal school system run by the city and involved in ways yet to be determined with other muncipalities and unincorporated county areas via “memorandums of understanding.”

Among the corollaries of that judgment: Adjacent communities like Arlington and Lakeland would have to be subsumed into some yet-to-be-imagined form of association via the aforesaid MOU route.

Mcdonald enumerated several unknowns. One was the cost of obtaining existing school infrastructure. He believes he can make the case that Bartlett has already paid in full for its school facilities through the state-ordained distribution-of-funding formula, based on average daily attendance figures.”The worst case,” he said, would be the schools’ “book value” (which he estimated at $65 million), plus the cost of debt service, “53 cents on the tax rate.”

Although Norris-Todd seemingly allows for the creation in 2013 of new special school districts in Shelby County other than municipal ones, McDonald said he thought the legislature would shy away from non-municipal systems on the grounds that to allow their creation would involve the extension of new taxing authority.

Consultants hired by the cty will report on January 16 on the feasibility of a city system, with a referendum possible by next November, said McDonald, who ventured that he and other city officials might shortly go "on the road" for a fact-finding tour to eqaivalent-sized communities with municipal school systems like Kingsport, Johnson City, and Alcoa in East Tennessee.

Though it was unclear to what extent he meant the remark to apply to a separate Bartlett educational systemn, McDonald was strikingly firm on his commitment to quality education for his city. “In politics you have to be careful on which sword you are willing to die on. I’m willing to die on this one.”

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