The Real Path to Autonomy

Yesterday, the group known as the TPC(the group planning the consolidation of Shelby County Schools), presented a couple of options to consider for an administrative/governance structure for the unified school district. The committee on administrative services presented two solutions. One will be voted on at the March 1st full-meeting of the TPC.

The first solution is what we have today which is a centralized model with lean regional administration serving under one board of education.

The second solution is a new “innovative solution” referred to as “Path to Autonomy”. Don’t let the fancy name fool you. It really is converting existing schools into charter schools. Here are the highlights of this system:

  • Schools would be allowed to apply for “autonomy” by agreement with the unified school board which would allow all decisions to be made at the school level in exchange for a high level of performance. If you do not meet the performance contract, they could take you back over. In the process the school would be converted to a charter schools and a non-profit 501c3 would be brought in to manage the school. The 501c3 has its own board that must have a school parent based upon charter law.
  • The selling point on this solution is that it would be confined to municipal boundaries, schools would be leased to charter school operators, and you have local control supposedly giving you the same effect as municipal districts without the extra taxes.

Now, let me enlighten you of the issues with this model:

  • Lets start with governance, 1) You must apply to the SCS for autonomy status and enter into a contract for performance 2) The schools must be converted to charter schools. On both of these points, the SCS has a say. Specifically during the charter school conversion process(which is easy) the SCS must pick a charter organization to manage your school or schools. There is no mechanism for the parents to pick their own 501c3 to manage these schools. They could easily choose Willie Herenton as the charter school operator. Also, the board of the 501c3 is determined by its charter and the board members are appointed, not elected. Literally with this option, you would have no say over the charter school operator or the board that is appointed.
  • Boundaries of charter schools – for those of you who want community schools, this option will not work. By state law, any student who lives in an LEA can apply and attend any charter school. In the proposed structure, the tpc assumes that you can create a boundary in the community by regions and only charter schools operating in those regions are where students go. That is contrary to state law and would require subsequent legislation to allow “boundaries” to exist. Unfortunately, this creates a case for litigation. Also, charter school attendance is determined by lottery which could mean a student in an area next to the school could be bumped by a child from somewhere in another region.
  • Assumption that buildings are free to charter schools – the SCS has taken a strong position even unto the point of placing into the legislative agenda that they support legislation requiring that charter school must pay “full market value” for schools. This would include sales and lease. Given the fact that charter schools are not allowed to spend ADA money on facilities and have to raise their own money to pay for facilities, the SCS would literally be making money off of itself and the charter would have to raise money to pay its rent.

Executive Summary on Path to Autonomy: The path to autonomy is nothing more than a system full of charter schools full of assumptions non-withstanding the fact that it has substantial legal issues and financial impediments and really a lack of control. For this solution to work, there would have to be new legislation and still there would be no real autonomy. There would actually be another bureaucracy. Municipal schools give you what you want. They are written into law today. You pick your representation through board elections. Your kids are zoned to community schools and not open to lottery requirements. And by the way, since you are tax payers, you are entitled to use of the property for no cost.

People would have you to beleive that municipal schools would not be open to their county share of ADA funding based upon based upon an attorneys a opinion of the Gibson county school system. This would not apply to Shelby County as it stands today. Let me share with you that our county mayor, which I voted for, has taken a pretty substantial stand on this by appointing almost all pro-consolidation members to the tpc and continually brings up roadblocks to stop municipalities from determining their path although he did nothing to stop what Memphis did other than to hold hands with the Memphis mayor. I hope you all rememebr this on election day. But you can trust your city mayor.

It seems to me that the real path to autonomy and having your say is through municipal school districts.

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