As was requested at last Tuesday evening's Board Work Session, we wanted to provide you additional information about the upcoming school closure discussion you will have at your Special Called Meeting beginning at 4 p.m. on Thursday afternoon (November 29) in the TLA Auditorium. This is a vitally important meeting on a topic of the utmost gravity; neither of us takes the possibility of closing schools lightly, and neither should the Board or our community.
Our starting place for the upcoming conversation ultimately preceded the Transition Planning Commission's (TPC) recommendations by several months. Following the process outlined by MCS Policy 3.602, the Shelby County Board of Education (SCBE) and staff undertook the closure of three schools effective for the 2011-12 school year. Many of you participated in the community meetings held at Georgia Avenue Elementary, Graceland Elementary, and/or Lakeview Elementary or the schools designated as receiver schools.
We now come to a point that the next round of proposed school closures is coming for your consideration. Although the context of the discussion is framed a bit differently than last year's process – TPC had not issued any recommendations when we discussed closures last year – the systematic way we approach this important issue remains the same: guided by policy and shaped by precedent.
Just as we did last year, we asked our staffs to identify any schools that should be considered for closing. The proposal coming to you on Thursday night is to conduct a series of impact studies on school closings per MCS Policy 3.602:
"The Superintendent will identify the school/schools to be considered for closing. A school impact study will then be conducted by staff taking into several factors, including: 1. Current and projected school enrollment to determine if the school has a small and declining enrollment with little expectation for growth. 2. Time, distance, and cost of student transportation. 3. Reduction of future capital expenditures for modernization, renovation, and/or replacement of identified facility. 4. Impact on the quality of life in the community. 5. If the assignment of students will be to an equally (or more) desirable facility which offers curricula and opportunities equal to (or better than) those available in the school that is being proposed for closing. 6. The age, structural soundness, and general condition of the school proposed for closing. 7. Ability of building to meet safety standards established by the state. 8. Cost of upkeep and maintenance. 9. Ability of building to meet safety standards established by the state and safety standards for public buildings, including state fire codes.
At least two community meetings will be held as part of the comprehensive school closing study."
While school closures are never easy and should be a last resort for a school district and a community, given the disruption and instability a school closure causes to students and to neighborhoods, it is important to remember that we have been down this road together before, and we know that, done right, the process works.
Now for a word about the context of Thursday's discussion: Attached you will find a set of PowerPoint slides (BCG Slides on School Closures.pdf) on school closures that were presented to us by the Boston Consulting Group, working on behalf of the TPC. As you will see, much thought and effort went into the preparation of these documents; we believe that you should review these documents prior to the meeting on Thursday. In the set of slides, you will see schools in each of the four MCS regions, and in incorporated and unincorporated Shelby County, listed on pages eight and nine of the Appendix. These schools were identified and listed by BCG using the single criterion of underutilization. It is important to note that TPC did not identify these schools as a "closure list" and neither do we.
However, you should know that TPC recommendation #113 indicates that the Board and staff close 20 schools in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Memphis. Our teams have worked diligently to be prepared for questions you may have about the TPC's assumptions and expectations, but we believe that following Board policy and process in this matter is the best course. Toward that end, we will present a listing of schools (Slate of Schools for Special Called Meeting November 29.pdf) on Thursday evening that will be considerably fewer than the 20 unnamed schools recommended for closure by the TPC.
Finally, we want to be exceptionally clear on the following point for you and for the community: Any vote taken on Thursday night will only begin the process of conducting the impact studies and the series of community meetings in just the same manner as was done last year; no schools will be closed on Thursday night.
We welcome any questions you may have about this important process and look forward to a robust conversation at the Special Called Meeting.
Dr. Kriner Cash, Superintendent John Aitken, Superintendent Memphis City Schools Shelby County Schools