Governor Bill Haslam today asked Memphis and Shelby County school leaders to ensure that everything is done in the best interest of students as they meet the state's legal requirements if consolidation is approved by voters.
State law requires a personnel plan for teachers be approved by the Education Commissioner, and Haslam asked acting Education Commissioner Patrick Smith to make sure all state requirements are met regardless of the March 8 referendum outcome.
Smith sent a letter to the Memphis and Shelby County superintendents asking for their personnel plan. He also requested an additional plan be submitted outlining how the transition between the school systems would be achieved with minimal disruption.
"This is primarily a local issue as to who votes and when, and as a former mayor, I understand that point, but the state has certain responsibilities to ensure that every child gets a good education and that nothing impairs that opportunity," Haslam said. "Regardless of where a district consolidation occurs, our responsibility has at least one legal obligation and that is a determination as to how teachers will be impacted by changes in school districts.
"Beyond that we have a common sense responsibility that addresses other areas of school operations such as bus contracts, maintenance and the reform initiatives that are underway in Memphis and Shelby County involving the Gates foundation," Haslam added. "We also have a moral responsibility that every day is the best day for every child, and we must not slow down the real progress on educational reform that is being made in Memphis and Shelby County."
Haslam has spoken with Sen. Norris, House Speaker Beth Harwell, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and the two mayors of Memphis and Shelby County. Governor Haslam asked Mayor Mark Luttrell and Mayor A.C. Wharton Jr. to work with local elected government officials and educators to develop a plan for the future for Memphis and Shelby County schools.
"The bottom line is the state will do everything it can to help ensure nothing stands in the way of students' educational opportunities," Smith said. "The state recognizes this as a local issue, but also the necessity to better understand the processes that have been put in motion."
State statute requires the Education Commissioner to make the determination that teachers' privileges are not impaired, interrupted or diminished by organizational changes prior to the changes becoming effective. In order to do that the determination must be made before March 8.