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By Bill Dries - The Daily News -
The first public hearing in the schools consolidation process Tuesday, Jan. 10, drew more than 600 people to Collierville United Methodist Church.
Hosted by the schools consolidation transition planning commission, the forum featured lots of opposition to the coming schools consolidation and concerns about student achievement and the movement of students and teachers among schools.
One of the last speakers was Vanecia Kimbrow, the attorney and Collierville resident who represents the area on the countywide school board. She is one of the seven board members appointed last year to the 23-member school board by the Shelby County Commission.
“Let us allow the process to work,” she said as she expressed concern that the opposition could make any consolidation plan a formality if citizens “walk away from the table before we even know what is possible.”
The dominant concern expressed was that a merger between Shelby County’s two public school systems would bring down achievement is what is for the time being the Shelby County Schools system in the county outside the city rather than improve achievement in the Memphis City Schools system.
“Memphis City Schools need to be brought up to our level,” one Collierville parent said. “We need to take them over.”
The biggest applause line of the evening was one of the few direct references to the possible formation of a separate suburban school system.
“We most respectfully decline,” one resident said of the “invitation” to join the merged school system.
Germantown resident Ken Hoover was more direct.
“What the suburbs so desperately want is local control,” he said, referring to a separate school system. “That cannot be produced by the transition committee.”
Several parents said they would head for private schools if their children’s teachers changed or county school superintendent John Aitken didn’t become head of the school system that will be merged at the start of the 2013-2014 school year.
“Will my kids get bussed Downtown?” asked Mitch Powers. “There’s been no clarity around the way forward.”
Planning Commission chairwoman Barbara Prescott gamely tried to stick with a format the commission had carefully mapped out earlier this month. The public comments were supposed to be divided into hopes for the new school system to come, then concerns and then dreams.
“My hope is this plan doesn’t succeed,” a Collierville parent responded. “I don’t want to see Collierville fade away as some dot on a map.”
The meeting came one week before Collierville city leaders and leaders of the other five suburban municipalities are due to get a report from consultants they each hired to explore the possibility of forming their own school system.
Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner said many of the same citizens at the Tuesday meeting will likely be listening for details of that at a public meeting he plans to call Thursday, Jan. 19.