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Memphis Suburbs Vote to Create New Districts

Residents of six suburban towns near Memphis have voted to create their own school districts, the Associated Press reports. The vote comes just weeks after the Memphis City Schools and Shelby County school district had officially merged into one 140,000-student system, in one of the largest school mergers in the nation's history.

The new districts, in the towns of Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington, would all be within the boundaries of the former Shelby County school system. The Memphis Commercial Appeal describes supporters of the new districts celebrating with soft drinks after yesterday's vote.

33memphisprotest600.jpgThe new, merged school district came into existence on July 1 (you can read more about the merger and some of the issues that have come up in a recent Education Week story). Memphis voters set the merger into motion in 2011 due to financial concerns.

But the suburban municipalities have been planning to create new districts for more than a year. The towns voted last fall to create their own districts, but those votes were later invalidated by a federal judge. A new law passed this spring by the state's legislature cleared the way for the new districts to be created and for this new round of votes. (The law potentially means that similar small districts could be created in other large Tennessee districts.)

Members of the merged district's board say that planning for the merger led to more collaboration and conversation about how to improve the efficiency of the county's schools within Memphis and in the county.

Using the merger as an opportunity to increase racial integration in the county's schools was never on the table, said Martavius Jones, a member of the merged district's board. But racial differences have haunted the conversation about the merged district, in this county with a long history of civil rights activism. The legacy Shelby County district's population is overwhelmingly white, whereas the legacy Memphis City district is largely African-American. Advocates for the new suburban districts say that parents in those areas want to have local control of their schools.

Shelby County and Memphis City students will all attend the merged system for the coming 2013-14 school year. But it's now likely that 2014-15 will see seven separate systems serving the county's students.

Photo: In 2012, Germantown, Tenn., residents demonstrated their support for creating a "municipal district" so that the town could run its own schools rather than merge with the Memphis city schools.
--Kyle Kyrlick/The Commercial Appeal/AP-File

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