Memphis (Tenn.) City Schools will forfeit its charter after a landmark vote in the city on March 8 mandated the district allow Shelby County—its neighboring suburban district—to regain control of its school system. Memphis, which has been separate from the county, has long been deemed the struggling district, while Shelby County (Tenn.) Schools has been regarded as the successful one. The move was originally proposed by the Memphis school board in November 2010 after SCS wanted to become a separate school district, walling itself off from the county's control and separating its tax base from Memphis. In the eyes of the Memphis School Board, giving up their sovereignty and merging the districts was a way to create a better school system.
The merger with Shelby County schools has been filled with controversy, and neither district has supported it outwardly. Not only will the merger produce a single-source funding mechanism but it will become the 16th largest school district in the country. While 67 percent of voters from the city of Memphis approved the measure to merge the schools, the turnout was low, with a mere 17 percent of registered voters coming out to the ballot box after a highly politicized campaign leading up to the vote. MCS represents 70 percent of the county, with roughly 110,000 students, 87 percent of whom receive free or reduced-price lunches. State report cards typically label the district with a D or F. Shelby County schools, conversely, has 48,000 students and, for the last five years, has earned an A from the state.
"There's this notion that school grades, graduation rates and test proficiency rates will improve automatically for Memphis schools," said Kriner Cash, superintendent of MCS. "If you merge an A with an F, everybody won't automatically get a C. There's hard work to do." Despite MCS's track record of poor academic achievement, Cash says the district has undergone many bold reforms for improvement and doesn't want the merger to deter them.
"Last night's vote [March 8] ended chapter one of what we believe will be a very long book," said Shelby County School Board resident David Pickler at a press conference in which he described the plan to merge the districts.
MCS and SCS will continue to operate independently of each other until 2013.