Ten Memphis City Schools have been identified in a merger proposal by Superintendent Carol Johnson to save the cash-strapped district millions in capital improvements and operating costs. The recommendation is expected to save the district $5.8 million for the first year, beginning with the 2005-2006 school year, and total $46.8 million in savings for the entire five-year transitional period.

Johnson and staff members presented the proposal during a board meeting Tuesday evening. The recommendation calls for five elementary schools: Stafford, Dunn, Orleans, Locke, and Walker to be merged into five other elementary schools: Cummings, Norris, Lincoln, Georgia Avenue, and Ford Road, respectively. If approved, the five schools merging into the remaining facilities would be closed at the end of the current school year.

The proposal was the result of a seven-month study of underutilized schools commissioned by the school board last year. Mergers were considered for schools with enrollments less than 300 students and a building capacity of less than 50 percent. School merger criteria also included the history of schools, proximity to neighboring schools, and building utilization. Census data during the last two cycles showed a decrease in not only the number of elementary school-age students, but also in the total population surrounding the five schools slated for closure. Much of the decrease is the result of several area housing developments that have either been closed by the city or undergone a reduction in the number of units.

As part of the plan, students involved in the merger will live within walking distance, a mile-and-a-half or less, from their schools. Johnson said the mergers would combine the best of both schools, with all previous programs and services in place at the new locations. District leadership teams will determine which principals stay on to oversee the new schools. Teachers with follow their students to the merged schools. “Specialty” positions, like counselors and librarians, will be allocated based on seniority and qualifications. Duplicate non-teaching positions, like custodians and secretaries, will be surplused for other employment within the district.

While the majority of the board expressed an interest in Johnson’s proposal, veteran commissioner Carl Johnson did not approve. “My main concern is that we don’t have a crystal ball to see how this will affect students and the communities in the long term,” he said. “People are thinking school closure is the answer, but people could vote with their feet, and their feet could take them to [surrounding] counties.”

The plan was reviewed with affected principals early Tuesday, with follow-up visits from district administrators with school personnel is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. A series of community forums and parent meetings will also be held before a board vote. Johnson hopes to have the sessions complete in time for a vote at the February 28 school board meeting.

The proposal did not include middle or high school assessments.

The complete merger report presented at Tuesday’s board meeting can be found on the MCS website:

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