Masson released as special master, oversaw schools merger - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Masson released as special master, oversaw schools merger

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DOWNTOWN MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

Federal Judge Samuel "Hardy" Mays, Jr., has released Rick Masson as special master. Masson was appointed by the judge to oversee the merger of legacy Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools.

Judge Mays hired Masson at $250 an hour in early March. The two school districts merged July 1.

Masson was contracted to be special master through Sept. 1. Judge Mays relieved Masson of his duties Sept. 4 (read the order from Judge Mays).

Through March-June, Masson charged the merged school system $31,500. For the month of June he billed SCS $2,750 for only 11 hours of work.

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Masson's main responsibility was to settle disputes between unified school board members and to report back to Judge Mays on any progress.

With the merger complete and the school district one more into the school year, Masson's assignment was terminated.

Masson, who broke his silence and gave an inside look on the schools merger, says it was all about communication. The board members had to put their differences aside and come together for the good of the new school system.

The merger process hit a major road block at a late April board meeting. Two items were on the agenda: hire a janitorial service and a transportation provider. But the votes weren't there, and the board adjourned without getting anything done.

It was the closest Masson came to stepping in.

"Oh yeah! I was very upset and very animated after those, that meeting," Masson told FOX13 News. "I remember that meeting in particular. But yeah, it was very close at times."

After months of work, Masson gave new details about what happened behind the scenes.

"The point was to move the process along to provide enough pressure to talk to enough members," he said.

Masson was working behind the scenes, talking to those board members, the interim superintendent, county and city leaders. He had the power to step in and order the board of education to take the necessary steps to complete the merger and start school.

But in the end he didn't have to.

"They made the decision, they were the elected officials that made the decisions and I think at the end of the day that was important to me," Masson said. "That was important to the judge that the elected body make those decisions and not the court."

Masson said the unsung heroes of the schools merger are the teachers, the principals, and the district staff that came together to get the job done.

"These were people that were working and they knew they were going to lose their jobs because of the, they knew somebody was going to lose their jobs because of the cuts," he said. "They were working very hard to make this merger work."

It was the largest school merger in U.S. history with a massive 23-member school board making the decisions. There were issues as school started this year, but Masson says many of the problems could be linked to budget cuts, not the merger itself.

Moving forward he says the key is communication.

"I think it could have gotten a lot worse," Masson said. "Could it have gone better? Sure. But it could have gone quicker obviously or I wouldn't have been required but it could have gone worse."

Masson says he hopes the new, smaller seven-member board of education can come together to solve the challenges that lie ahead. Some of those issues are deciding on the transfer of schools to the municipalities, organizing new attendance zones and the outstanding litigation that's pending with the county commission.

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FOX13 News reporter Matt Gerien contributed to this report.

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