Council, School Board Agree: Memphis' Will is Paramount

Two Tuesday night votes clear the way for a dissolution of MCS, but Norris bill and five-district solution loom as alternatives.

Posted by Jackson Baker on Wed, Jan 19, 2011 at 8:00 AM

Board members Jeff Warren, Sara Lewis, and Tomeka Hart follow Tuesday nights action. (Martavius Jones is visible at left.)
  • JB
  • Board members Jeff Warren, Sara Lewis, and Tomeka Hart follow Tuesday night's action. (Martavius Jones is visible at left.)

As of 9:45 Tuesday night, Memphis sovereignty over its own affairs was doubly underscored:

Rejecting a “compromise” school plan received from Shelby County Schools by a convincing vote of 7-2, the Memphis City Schools board completed a statement begun several hours earlier when the Memphis City Council voted unanimously for a resolution “accepting and approving the dissolution and surrender of the Memphis City Schools Charter.”

Both outcomes moved the looming and perhaps inevitable consolidation of the MCS and SCS systems further down the road. But that almost seemed a secondary consequence. What the two votes established first and foremost was the right of Memphis citizens to chart their own course and resolve their own destiny.

As Councilman Bill Boyd said in joining his colleagues in voting for a resolution prepared by Councilman Shea Flinn, “We are all Memphians, and we’re all representatives of the citizens of Memphis,”, and that meant, Boyd said, that “we don’t have any other choice” other than to defend the city’s right to decide by itself the fate of its own public school system.

And School Board member Martavius Jones responded similarly when asked to account for his board’s one-sided rejection of a convoluted SCS plan. The county board's profferred plan would have forced the MCS board to rescind its dramatic December 20 vote to surrender its charter and authorize a citywide referendum on the transfer of MCS'authority to the Shelby County Schools board. Under the SCS counter-offer rejected Tuesday night county voters would have been empowered to vote along with Memphis residents for a replacement plan.

“What needs to be emphasized most is that Memphis City Schools has abided by the law. The law says Memphians have the right to control their fate,” Jones said.

Just in case the MCS Board might get cold feet and come to a different conclusion, Flinn and Council co-sponsor Harold Collins had crafted their resolution as a sort of fallback to the planned referendum. It set an effective date of March 21 for the dissolution of MCS with “an option to reconsider if the voters disapprove the referendum.” Now that the possible impediments have been removed, the Shelby County Election Commission is expected to meet Wednesday and set March 8 as a referendum date on the MCS action.

Meanwhile, the way has been laid for quick passage of legislation in Nashville that could stop the movement toward charter surrender in its tracks. Or so thinks its sponsor, state Senator Mark Norris of Collierville, the Republican majority leader.

Says Norris: “I would think that timely passage of my proposed bill would render that [the outcome of a charter-transfer referendum] moot. I doubt that they would have that referendum. If they did, I think it would be a nullity.”

His bill, based on his reading of Title 49, Chapter 2 ), Part 12 of the state legal code, a portion dealing with consolidation of school systems within the same jurisdiction, prescribes a method similar to the one just rejected by the MCS board. Like that SCS plan, Norris’ calls for a period of study, followed by a referendum prepared jointly by representatives of both affected systems. Unlike the SCS plan, the referendum contemplated by Norris’ bill would require dual approval by separate votes in city and county.

The bill is certain to be fast-tracked once the General Assembly reconvenes on February 7. It could therefore be on its way to becoming law before the presumed referendum date in Memphis of March 8 (the Election Commission was scheduled to meet on Wednesday to formalize that date) and before the March 21 date specified in the city council resolution.

Clearly, given the plethora of alternative legal realities, adjudication in the courts will be required to sort them out, and that could be a time-consuming process.

There are indications, however, that a genuine compromise solution may be in the works. School Board member Jeff Warren proposed a variant of it at Tuesday night’s Board meeting. He floated an alternative to the SCS plan that envisioned a consolidated system subdivided into five discrete administrative districts, supervised by a Chancellor. His plan was foredoomed Tuesday night by his provision for a countywide vote to achieve the system.

At one point, fellow Board member Stephanie Gatewood admonished Warren, who has put forth a series of would-be compromise plans, to no avail. “This is the fourth time you’ve tried to recreate, revise, or re-edit,” she said, pointing out that so far the other side had shown no interest in his suggestions.

Even so, Warren vowed afterward to continue trying to find some middle ground. And plans similar to the one he vented Tuesday night are in general circulation. Personalities as diverse as former mayor Willie Herenton, councilman Flinn, and state Senator Norris have all floated variants of the five-sub —district idea. Even David Pickler, the SCS board chairman whose talking out loud about seeking special school district status for SCS precipitated the current crisis, said Tuesday night the option might be worth considering “if we end up with a consolidated district.”

An awful lot of verbal hair-splitting continues to go on, with various parties to the controversy (notably anti-surrender Board member Kenneth Whalum on Tuesday night) pointing out that the current battle is being fought out not along lines of consolidation per se but concerning issues of charter “surrender” or “transfer.”

But a consolidated district is the projected end point of all the separate skirmishes, as everyone well knows, and that’s what the current war is all about.

See also John Branston's report.

Comments (22)

Showing 1-22 of 22

Your article states: "Memphis City Council voted unanimously for a resolution 'accepting and approving the dissolution and surrender of the Memphis City Charter.'" Are we surrendering our CITY charter as well as our city SCHOOLs charter?

Posted by midtown101 on 01/19/2011 at 9:27 AM

Mr. Norris should know that he will have a fight on his hand. His agenda is to protect and segregate for his surbanian interest. This form of racism, be it from any race will not be accepted and will be rejected.

Mr. Norris should know what he is doing will cause tension between the majority and minority governments which will ultimately lead to sure isolation for the suburanites.

It is hard to beleive that Mr. Norris, who I beleive is a sure racist is so ignorant that he would try to argue against the 6th circuit ruling of 1996 which he championed that exclude Memphis voters from participating in the election of the Shelby County School Board.

Mr. Norris has failed to realize that Memphis has not and can not succeed from Shelby County and represent 75% of the county. He has failed to realize that Memphis is the county seat of Shelby County. Mr. Norris has failed to realize while he is trying to segregate, isolate and run from Memphis he will fall down and hurt himself.

Meanwhile, you have County Commissioner Terry Roland and Arlington Mayor Russell (Charlie Brown peanut Christmas special)Wiseman continues talk of succession and municipal schools. I recommend to the Arlington Mayor, who can't provide it's own emergency protection service should not let racism control his mind and should stick with Charlie Brown.

So, Mr Norris should not under estimate the resolve of the voter of Memphis

Posted by No Label on 01/19/2011 at 9:42 AM


School Board Charter is seperate from City Of Memphis Govt. Charter.

City govt charter is not under surrender

Posted by No Label on 01/19/2011 at 9:46 AM

I have no problem with Arlington forming its own school system, just as long as those folks understand they're going to have to subject themselves to double taxation to maintain a separate system.

Posted by Packrat on 01/19/2011 at 10:06 AM

How would you like to be the preacher who presides over the marriage ceremony for SCS and MCS ?

To do it justice, you'd have to break-out Danny Owens to throw the bachelor party.

Posted by tomguleff on 01/19/2011 at 10:08 AM

Let The Voting Begin!!!

Watch the Election Commission...They will manipulate the VOTES
Bring in the FBI to watch them.

Posted by stoplying on 01/19/2011 at 10:46 AM

The wedding analogy is getting old.

Posted by barf on 01/19/2011 at 10:50 AM

Mr. No Label,

You seem to be ignorant of the fact that the state controls the schools, not the counties nor cities in Tennessee. It is a power that the state has reserved for itself. It really doesn't matter what happens here. The state legislature holds all the trump cards. Why do you think the MCS board even considered the SCS proposal? It was because of the legislation in Nashville that would have forced separate votes. MCS felt they at least had a chance of swaying voters over time in a single county-wide vote.

And you need to get your facts right. Shelby county is more racially diverse than Memphis. For instance, the Germantown High School web site indicates that 49% were black and 42% were white.

I think you need to call yourself the racist - because the demographics aren't 90% black like MCS is, you think it is racism? You are the racist.

Posted by MemphisVoter on 01/19/2011 at 10:53 AM

Hat tip to Midtown, No Label, et al. who caught the typo. Yes, indeed, it is the Memphis City Schools charter, not the Memphis City charter, that is currently subject to dissolution. (It is worth noting, however, that the idea of dissolving the city's charter has been floated in the past as a way to achieve city/county consolidation — in much the way that liquidating MCS as an entity would pave the way to school consolidation.)

Posted by Jackson Baker on 01/19/2011 at 11:00 AM

Needless to say, btw, the typo is now long gone.

Posted by Jackson Baker on 01/19/2011 at 11:01 AM

Memphis voter, why didn't the state intervene when the Knoxville city schools did the same thing and only Knoxville city residents voted on it?

Posted by Packrat on 01/19/2011 at 11:26 AM

I think what's most striking to me as regards yesterday's events is the fact that the Memphis City Council vote to support MCS charter surrender was unanimous. These folks usually can't agree on anything, and lo and behold, the vote is 10-0 for surrender. Wow.

Posted by Tennessee Waltzer on 01/19/2011 at 11:41 AM

Why does this issue have to come back to race? Why can't it be viewed as a larger school district forcing itself on one that is 2/3 smaller? The larger school district has lower scores that the smaller, and the smaller school district has better schools. Once the larger, lower-scoring school overwhelms the smaller, the smaller district will cease to be as affective.

Why shouldn't the Memphis City Council approve the charter surrender? They won't lose anything, but gain all the funding they've been funneling into MCS.

Posted by countymom on 01/19/2011 at 3:38 PM

Gotta hand it to the Council Members who stood up for Memphis taxpayers when they didn't have to.

I must have missed the vote count on the Council and who the two voting against on the School Board were.

Posted by Wintermute on 01/19/2011 at 4:17 PM

Packrat, it could be that they didn't have the legislature support when it occurred, or wasn't a hostile takeover like this is.

Posted by MemphisVoter on 01/19/2011 at 5:47 PM

Yes, not surprising that the city council voted to approve the surrender - now they won't have to pay the $78M they owe MCS. Gee, a win for all involved. Dumbshmucks - they don't want to pay for the Memphis schoolkids. How can anyone call that upstanding or courageous. It was as cowardly as it could be.

Posted by MemphisVoter on 01/19/2011 at 5:49 PM

Wintermute, there were no No's. Ed Ford and Bill Morrison recused themselves as teachers.

Posted by Jackson Baker on 01/19/2011 at 7:35 PM

Oops, sorry, I misread your comment. The two on the School Board who differed from the others (they said 'Yes,' actually) were Kenneth Whalum and Freda Williams.

Posted by Jackson Baker on 01/19/2011 at 7:45 PM

Hey countymom,
I hope you didn't graduate from SCS, as they are clearly not "affective" at teaching you. Have you asked why MCS has lower test scores and "worse" (by your reckoning) schools? How well would you do if your community (which you are a part of, living in Shelby County) kept underpaying for your educational needs? Certainly if all students in Shelby County and Memphis had the same economic background and same educational opportunities and facilities, they would all have the same chance to score high on the Almighty Tests.
Why are Shelby County residents so afraid of their own kids and Memphis kids being educated together? Why don't they want to anything to do with the education and the futures of their own neighbors? It's your area, too, that these folks live in, and may work in one day. Why wouldn't you want them educated????

Posted by randomcitizen on 01/20/2011 at 5:04 PM

memphisvoter, the situation was exactly the same in Knoxville. City school board and the voters of Knoxville voted to surrender the school charter and hand th reins over to Knox County. Knox Countians who didn't live IN Knoxville did not vote on the matter. And the state never even considered intervening. The only thing different this time is........?

Posted by Packrat on 01/20/2011 at 6:28 PM

A big elephant in the room?

Posted by sbanbury on 01/20/2011 at 8:42 PM

Memphis Voter,

The states have reserved power to control their schools vis-a-vis the FEDERAL government. And while the state legislature can enact legislation regarding its own public schools, the state court system - and possibly the federal court system - would provide a check on any act or law that violates either the state or federal constitution. There are a variety of ways a court could legitimately overturn or limit the power of such legislation. One of them is based on the fact that the United States Constitution expressly prohibits both Congress and state legislatures from enacting ex post facto laws, i.e. laws with a retroactive effect. Although the prohibition has been interpreted to apply mainly to criminal laws, it has also been enforced against civil laws which interfere with due process or infringe upon a vested right. Retroactive legislation - even non-criminal legislation - has generally been viewed as unfavorable by the legal community, creating legal and ethical vagueness; laws are never presumed to apply retroactively but must be specified as such in their wording. Hence, the rush to dissolve the charter before any legislation is enacted: it would make it much more difficult to enact and enforce legislation permitting Shelby County to create a special school district.

Posted by bananagram on 01/21/2011 at 2:09 PM
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