Three members of the 23-member board were absent. Board member Kevin Woods voted "no" but is actually in favor of the change. By voting no he reserved the right to bring up the measure again — a practice that is fairly standard on the Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission. Barbara Prescott, chairman of the Transition Planning Commission which proposed the change, said she believes there is one more "yes" vote among the three absentees, which, with Woods, would make a majority.
The proposal puts more emphasis on student test scores and less emphasis on experience and advanced degrees. But interim superintendent Dorsey Hopson emphasized that it would not cut the pay of any current teacher or any teacher currently working on an advanced degree.
In the face of dozens of Memphis Education Association members holding signs urging board members to vote no, Hopson defended the proposed change, in the first test of his leadership as superintendent.
He gave a good account of himself, as did several board members in the debate that avoided emotional outbursts. The complex issue, with conflicting studies and research, lends itself to "on the one hand, on the other hand" speeches, and there were several of them.
The division on the board defied the usual stereotypes. Both suburban and Memphis representatives were to be found on both sides. So were board members with advanced degrees. Proponents included David Reaves, Tomeka Hart, Jeff Warren, Betty Mallott, and Billy Orgel. Opponents included Joe Clayton, Snowden Carruthers, David Pickler, Sara Lewis, Patrice Robinson, Stephanie Gatewood, and Kenneth Whalum Jr.
No speaker carried the day, but Hopson had the most memorable line. He repeatedly used the fictional example of a degree in "basket weaving" qualifying a teacher for more money. In the example he used, a teacher with a bachelor's degree and excellent student test results and mentoring experience would make $43,994. Another teacher with a master's degree and 45 more hours of graduate school with mediocre test results and no outside mentoring or added responsibility could make $66,258.