Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Fairness in Residency Requirements for School Employees

The current discussion about whether teachers in the unified district should be required to live within Shelby County should not have been put off until now.  This question has been an open question at least since the Transition Planning Commission's Human Resources and Personnel Committee became aware of the issue last February.  Nothing like waiting until the last minute to iron out some stress points for employees.

Memphis City Schools has had no residency requirement.  Shelby County Schools has only required its employees within the confines of Shelby County since 1986, when the Shelby County Charter went into effect.  Section 5.10 of the County Charter states that "All [Shelby County] employees must be residents of Shelby County at the time of appointment and shall continue to reside in Shelby County as a condition of their employment, provided, however, this provision shall not apply to any employee working for Shelby County government on the effective date of this charter or to any class of employees exempted by ordinance based on a legitimate governmental interest."  As you can see, the Charter itself grandfathered in employees who at that time lived outside of the County. 

I'm generally in favor of this kind of requirement.  I think that government employees should live among the people they serve.  In a County with limited resources, when we hire employees, it's a stratetgic investment.  I think it's appropriate to invest in individuals that are also willing to invest in our community.

I get the arguments - you know the ones:  "we're Americans, the government can't tell us where to live,"  "we should hire the best candidates whether they live in Tipton (or Desoto) County or Shelby County," etc.  I get them.  I just disagree with them.  You don't have to work for the government, and I think it's a valuable, beneficial mutual investment between employer and employee.

But we're not talking about this kind of residency requirement in the abstract, we're talking about how to apply it to the old-MCS-soon-to-be-SCS employee population of about 1,400 people who live somewhere besides Shelby County, and maybe someplace besides Tennessee.  Because they've always been allowed to.

I don't quite agree with County Commissioner Terry Roland who suggested that the solution should be either to get rid of the residency requirement for everyone, or require MCS employees to come into compliance.  Instead, the same consideration that was given to Shelby County employees in 1986 should be given to Memphis City Schools employees now.  Just grandfather them in.  New hires, and employees that leave the system and then want to come back into it, should have to comply with the residency requirement.

Just today, we found out what solution the County Commission has hammered out.  MCS employees living somewhere besides Shelby County will have five years from July 1, 2013 to move into Shelby County - or back into it - and to come into compliance with the County Charter's requirement.

Someone probably should raise the issue of any SCS employees that live outside of Shelby County.  There might still be some SCS teachers that were grandfathered in back in 1986 who still work for SCS and still live someplace besides Shelby County.  If we're going to require MCS employees who have never had a residency requirement to come into compliance, maybe we just should not grandfather anyone in.  Creating different classes of employees is problematic.

Someone probably also should raise the issue of any SCS employees hired since 1986 who don't exactly live in Shelby County.  There might, just possibly, be some employees who are not exactly in compliance with the current rule but weren't around for the 1986 exception - maybe the addresses on their driver's licenses or car registrations don't exactly match the address on file with the district.  People that want to circumvent the rule will usually find a way - using a parent's or relative's address for paperwork purposes, using a P.O. Box or a UPS store's street address - all the usual ways people circumvent disclosing their actual address.  And let's face it, compliance is an issue on the front end of employment - residence is not exactly verified on an ongoing basis.  Should these folks who are willfully out of compliance get the same five years to come into compliance as the MCS folks who will be new SCS employees?  Or should they be disciplined for being out of compliance when they absolutely should have been in compliance for the duration of their employment?

If we're going to force compliance, let's make sure we force compliance fairly.

And there is still the issue of maintaining the "rights and privileges" of current teachers, and not reducing them due to the merger.  The County Commission should probably fully vet this before they find themselves in the position of needing a(nother) legal team to defend this rule.

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