Monday, January 21, 2013

What's In a Name?

Back in October 2011, at the very first meeting of the "unified" Shelby County School Board, Commissioner Patrice Robinson started off the festivities with a motion to add an item to the agenda, namely that the name of the Shelby County Board of Education be changed to "Unified Shelby County School Board".  The item got added to the agenda, but the proposal died.

Gosh, so much has happened since then.

Michael Kelley now tells us that the clock is ticking if the Board intends to change its name in advance of next school year.  Apparently, such a change involves things like state legislation, and logos on buildings, cars, and stationery, along with myriad other considerations that only the respective legal and PR teams care anything about.  The subject came up at this past Friday's Transition Advisory Council meeting.

The TAC is made up of various "stakeholders", and chaired by School Board Vice-Chair Teresa Jones.  Also on the TAC:  School Board Commissioners Snowden Carruthers and Freda Williams, Transition Planning Commissioners Daniel Kiel and (Mayor) Mark Luttrell, Sammy Jobe & Keith Williams (heads of the SCEA and MEA, respectively), Parents Sharon Farley and Veronica Collins, and Terence Patterson, Education Program Officer for the Hyde Family Foundations.  The TAC started meeting last October.

Of all the things to be worried about.  And of all the things to be worried about RIGHT NOW.

Just switching all of the MCS logos over to SCS logos - on vehicles, on school id's, on school letterheads - will be a significant expense.  With a district double-the-size, there are just many more things with the MCS logo than with the SCS logo.  I haven't seen this cost as a line item anywhere, but we haven't exactly had a proposed budget yet, either.  This is a cost directly related to the merger, and must be taken into account somewhere.  It probably doesn't need to be done for Day 1, but it probably should be completed by the end of the school year 2013-14.

Converting all of the current logos to some new logo will be even more expensive.  As a matter of financial stewardship, it seems excessive to go through this sort of large scale branding change.  It would be even more excessive to go through this branding process more than once - a likely possibility given the uncertainty around the potential municipal school districts.  Nothing like naming something "unified" right before it gets broken up into pieces.

There's sure to be a political argument about whether "Memphis" should be reflected in the name, whether the new iteration of Shelby County Schools should be reflected in its name, whether it's important to reflect that this is a "unified" school district.  No one has convinced me that this is anything other than a political discussion, with little actual impact on anyone or anything except the Commissioners having the discussion.  Calling the unified district "unified" next year will not make it more difficult for the municipalities to leave the district, it won't make them look bad while they do it, and it won't really reinforce any sense of "unity".

Particularly while this entire region is in such a period of flux, and the future unified-then-to-be-dissected district is so financially strapped, why incur the cost?  And why incur this cost by This version of the School Board when the eventual School Board is likely to be constructed differently, and may have different views on what to call this district, and may very well have a very different district to name?

Maybe it's worth the mental exercise of the discussion, but let's not stake any of our political reputations on how this comes out.  Someone in the district should be working up the costs associated with this - for just converting MCS to SCS, and for converting MCS AND SCS to something else, and for MCS AND SCS again - so that a real discussion can occur.  But even that work-up has a financial cost to it - requiring teams of people to meet (PR, legal, and finance).  This should be a short discussion, Commissioners.

Let it stay Shelby County Schools.  At least for now.  And possibly, hold off on converting the MCS logoed-items to anything else, and just leave them as MCS until things settle down 'round here.  Maybe I'm just a pessimist and this latest round of mediation will take.  I almost typed that with a straight face.  Speaking of straight faces . . .

Commissioner David Reaves unwittingly contributes some humor to the article.  "It might be best to stay with the status quo, said Commissioner David Reaves. 'Really it's a prioritization of what we have to do, day one,' he said. 'We would have to vote to send it to the legislature to create a bill. That's an enormous amount of time. So the question is, if we don't do that this (legislative) term, and we have to go ahead and re-brand with an SCS brand, at least for the first year: What is the cost going to be, versus going ahead and doing it now?'"

You know, because it's SO difficult for Shelby County to get anything passed in the state legislature because it will take SO long.  Just for some people, Commissioner Reaves, just for some people.

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