What About the School Board?

Ed. Note: For a fuller discussion of the current proposals on County redistricting, check out this post.

Members of the Unified School Board
Another issue, which is perhaps secondary to the debate on County redistricting, is that of the School Board.

In the consent order from Judge Mays, the Unified School Board will go to 7 member after the unification of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools is complete, in September of 2013.

Everyone seems to agree that 7 members is too few for a school system with over 150,000 students, and a county of nearly a million people. Judge Mays left open the possibility that the School Board could be expanded at some later date.

Yesterday, as reported by Zack McMillin at the Commercial Appeal, the County Commission began looking at the legal ramifications, and possibilities surrounding expanding the School Board.

In accordance with Judge Mays’ order, the districts must be single member districts, and they should be of equal size. This means that in order to expand the School Board and have those districts mirror the districts of the County Commission, the County Commission must adopt a single member district plan.

All of this presupposes that the preferred size of the School Board would be 13, though I don’t see any real reason for it to be any smaller.

If the County Commission chooses to go with the current multi-member plan discussed here, then expands the Unified School Board to 13 single member districts, they are effectively speaking out of both sides of their mouth. One thing is good for one body, something else is good for another.

While it may seem that such a position would be hard to support, I can see it happening. This would be a “what’s good for the goose may not be good for the gander” proposition.

But ultimately, this scenario creates additional confusion for voters and an additional set of lines for people to keep up with. You may be in District 1 in the County Commission, and District 6 in the Unified School Board. County Commission districts would likely be split in such a scenario, meaning people who live across the street from each other would have different representatives depending on how the lines are drawn. This makes it harder for people to organize for or against any specific issue that would involve both bodies.

Since the Consent Order effectively gives the City of Memphis an out on funding the schools, the County Commission will be the go to body after unification is complete. To my way of thinking, this makes it that much more critical that the districts for the County Commission and the School Board mirror each other, which, by necessity should push the Commission to adopt a single member district plan.

See Also: Zack McMillin on the issue

One thought

  1. The only thing, and I don’t think this is a show-stopper, is that with mirrored districts, politicians tend to view a school board seat as a “stepping stone” to a seat on the county commission. (They may do that anyway, but it’s easier to notice when the districts are identical.)

    I guess that’s not a totally bad thing, but education is so focused (and so critical), I’d want BoE members to be uniquely qualified for that role, and not just using it to climb the political ladder.

    It’s not the same as a mayor-governor path or a state rep-state senator move.

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