The Commercial Appeal

Residency compromise would give MCS employees 5 years

- By Linda A. Moore lmoore@commercial­ 901-529-2702

The County Commission’s Education Committee reached a compromise on residency requiremen­ts for the new unified school system that would give the 1,400 employees of Memphis City Schools who live outside the county five years from July 1, 2013, to move in.

The unanimous 9-0 vote followed a debate among commission­ers that focused on fairness, taxes and possible layoffs for school employees.

Memphis City Schools has no residency requiremen­t for its employees, but Shelby County establishe­d a residency requiremen­t for its workers in 1986.

Commission­er Walter Bailey sponsored an ordinance that would have made the more than 1,400 MCS workers who live outside of Shelby County exempt from the county’s rules, while Commission­er Terry Roland’s ordinance would have given them one year to comply.

Newly hired school employees will be required to live in the county.

Roland opposes any residency requiremen­ts, but sees enforcing the existing one as a “no-brainer.”

“In my opinion, it would be hypocritic­al to grandfathe­r somebody in and

give them a privilege that the other 8,000 employees does not get,” Roland said. “And if you look at it in a political way, we’re about a year and a half, maybe less, out from several of us (commission­ers) having to run again. You’re telling 8,000 people that work for us that they don’t mean as much to us as those people who live in DeSoto County.”

Saying that teaching is “the most important profession in the world,” Commission­er Melvin Burgess argued that the residency requiremen­t could cost the district educators.

“That’s what the district is struggling with, trying to find Level 4 teachers,” Burgess said. “Wanna be a world-class system? You’ve got to have good teachers.”

Roland’s ordinance was amended by Commission­er Chris Thomas to give MCS workers five years to move to the county or find other employment.

Thomas had initially supported waiving the residency requiremen­t, but after hearing reports that the schools may have to lay off workers, said he had changed his mind and wanted to make sure that county taxpayer dollars aren’t going to residents of Tipton, DeSoto or Fayette counties.

“We’ve got to look out for our taxpayers. We’re talking about people having to raise taxes because of a shortage of revenues. But what’s going to happen if we don’t give jobs to people who live here and should have those jobs?” Thomas said.

While some argued about fairness for current county workers, commission chairman Mike Ritz defended MCS employees.

“I don’t think it’s fair to expect people who were employed a year ago or 10 years ago or 30 years ago under one set of rules to now tell them they’re not eligible for employment because of what’s going on politicall­y in our community,” Ritz said. “It’s not the employees’ fault that we are where we are with the school system situation.”

In deference to Burgess’ concerns, Commission­er Heidi Shafer asked County Atty. Kelly Rayne to craft another amendment that would allow residency exceptions for critical positions, like teachers who provide instructio­n in certain areas.

Satisfied with the compromise, Bailey withdrew his ordinance.

The full commission will vote on the ordinance on first reading on Monday.

The committee did not address a letter submitted by Dan Chapman, president of the Shelby County Deputy Sheriffs’ Associatio­n, that asked that the deputies be included in any waiver of residency rules.

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