In a manner that was almost pro forma, Germantown Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy and her Board of Aldermen ended three years of non-stop resistance to the specter of city-county school merger with a quick 4-0 vote for a deal that enables the suburb to proceed with its public-school independence.
That the deal with Shelby County Schools was achieved only at the expense of allowing SCS to take control of three of Germantown’s flagship schools was dealt with by means of a stoic fatalism, sans debate and without any expression of the private anguish that the city officials may well have felt.
“It lays a foundation on which our new school district can be formed,” was the game way the mayor put it in the course of her dispassionate introduction of add-on agenda item 5B, which John Drinnon dutifully moved, with Mike Palazzolo seconding it.
The Board members had met for an hour with their attorneys “in a litigation session” just before the public meeting, Goldsworthy had explained, and she made it clear the message they got was: You have no choice. She spoke of the numerous counter-proposals the city had made in vain to the SCS board and said she was “keenly aware” that the agreement did not “address all our concerns.”
As Goldsworthy would put it in a brief encounter with the media after the meeting, “Clearly, the Shelby County School board, I think there is general agreement, is responsible, it owns the schools, it holds them in trust for the education of children….Ultimately, you have to recognize that the decision rests more with the Shelby County School board than with our desire.”
In other words, though Goldsworthy pointedly eschewed any use of the metaphor, SCS held all the cards.
It remained for two Germantown residents, both of whom had daughters at Germantown Elementary, to address some obvious points and mourn the outcome after the vote had been taken..
There was Jason Polley, who began, “To say I’m bitterly disappointed is an understatement….Part of this city has been hurt by this deal tonight [and] you haven’t asked for any public input.”
He was followed by Don Adams, who made explicit what Polley had only hinted it. Identifying himself as a resident of zip-code 38138, the area containing the three SCS schools-to-be, he imagined out loud the thought pattern of somebody contemplating a move into the area: “Why would I want to move into 38138?”
In a reference to Goldsworthy’s previous description of the deal as “an agreement of compromise and settlement, Adams said, ”The compromise sounds like it was all them. They wanted three schools. They got three schools.”
In her post-meeting conversation with the attendant press, Goldsworthy protested the geographic reference, saying emphatically, “I live in 38138.I certainly have a vested interest. What we can do is assure everyone in Germantown that I am absolutely convinced that, first, the new school board will do everything appropriate to assure that everyone has access to excellence in the classroom, and, two, that the City of Germantown will continue to do everything that it does to make sure that every neighborhood is desirable.”
In answer to a variety of questions, she spoke of the prospect of inter-local arrangements with Collierville and gave assurance that, whatever the dislocations of student transfers might be, there would be room in Houston High School for additional students.
She was adamant that her city had fought the good fight. “Anybody who was a party to the negotiations knows that we did not roll over. We had completely and consistently asked for all eight schools, and we were willing to operate those in terms that we felt gave us an opportunity some time in the future to re-examine that.”
She spoke of having tried for a six-school option that left Germantown Elementary within the city’s own system but said “the other party,” SCS, would not agree on terms that were acceptable.
In the end, the new Germantown School Board had seen no alternative to accepting the agreement -- which at least allowed the city to move forward in creating a new school district for next year anjd the future beyond that -- and neither had the city administration.
The agreement will come before the SCS board for its formal approval on Tuesday night, and, in fairly short order, the Shelby County Commission is expected to convene and dismiss its last remaining piece of litigation, with Germantown.
And then, as Goldsworthy had noted in her introductory remarks, federal district judge Hardy Mays will have an opportunity to close the curtain on the whole three-year struggle.
In the manner of the other five suburbs that had previously reached agreement with the SCS board, Germantown will acquire rights to five public schools through a process of making 12 annual payments — in Germantown’s case, at a rate of $355,453 per year, coming to something like $4.25 million.
As in the other cases, there is no one-to-one purchase arrangement. Technically, the money will be used to help offset SCS retirement obligations, while the deeds to school properties will be made over separately.