The Commercial Appeal

Wrong path on residency rule


The Shelby County Commission has reached a tentative compromise on whether current Memphis City Schools employees will be required to live in Memphis/Shelby County when MCS goes out of business July 1 and becomes part of the unified Shelby County school district.

The commission’s education committee Wednesday voted 9-0 on a measure that would give the MCS employees who now live outside the county five years from July 1, 2013, to move. The full commission is scheduled to vote Monday on the first of three readings necessary to approve the ordinance.

You have to wonder, though, why some commission­ers initially pushing for strict enforcemen­t of the residency requiremen­t also have been the most outspoken against the merger, which is well under way. The Shelby County unified school board has enough on its plate in having the new system ready to begin classes Aug. 5, while trying to figure out, along with administra­tors, how to close a $90 million budget gap. Making MCS employees worry about whether they will have to move in one year or five years places unnecessar­y stress on those who don’t live in the county.

The Commercial Appeal has used this space in the past to criticize residency requiremen­ts by local government­s. The argument in favor of such rules is that those who earn a living working for a local government should have to live and pay taxes within that government’s boundaries. On the surface, that may sound reasonable, but it is also a punitive measure that can reduce the pool of highly qualified employees. The city of Memphis learned that the hard way regarding the recruitmen­t of police officers.

Commission­er Terry Roland said exempting the current MCS employees from the residency requiremen­t would be unfair to employees in other county department­s. But consider this: When the county charter was approved in 1986, employees who lived outside the county were grandfathe­red in to the residency requiremen­t, without any restrictio­ns.

County Attorney Kelly Rayne has been asked to craft an amendment that would make residency exceptions for “critical” positions. Good teachers and administra­tors are critical to making the schools merger work. They need a residency exemption without stipulatio­ns.

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