No member of the current Shelby County Commission — or in the local political establishment, for that matter — has devoted more time or energy or constructive thought to the vexing and still-unresolved issue of school funding than Mike Carpenter. Almost as soon as he was sworn in after the countywide election of 2006, Carpenter began thinking out loud about the relationship between the Memphis school system and that of Shelby County. When the funding issue heated up last year, he oversaw an ad hoc in-depth examination of the problem across all jurisdictional lines.
Now, after the breakdown of earlier efforts to achieve an understanding between the various principals, Carpenter is trying again with a plan for single-source funding by the county that offers legitimate incentives to everybody. Though his plan envisions countywide property-tax increases in the third and fourth year of a four-year transitional period, city residents would experience an overall reduction in taxes via the conversion to single-source funding. (Currently, Memphis residents pay property taxes to both the city and the county.)
For their part, residents of Shelby County outside the city would benefit from a reduction in the special school-bonds levy employed several years ago to build a new school in Arlington. Further, by virtue of the current state allocation formula (based on average daily attendance), the county school system would net a $35 million "windfall" once the $78 million in disputed funding for city schools is permanently freed up. The $113 million required to fund the total package would be augmented from expected normal revenue growth as well as from the two proposed tax hikes.
All in all, it has the look of a potential bargain, though Carpenter expects changes as the plan undergoes discussion over the next several weeks. It's a start, anyhow, and we congratulate the commissioner.
It is hard to imagine two more influential — or more inspirational — figures in Memphis' civil rights history than the husband-wife team of Vasco and Maxine Smith. Though somewhat less in the public eye than his wife, the longtime head of the local NAACP chapter, Vasco Smith was as instrumental as she, both in his own right and as her backup through several decades of strife and overdue change, including the integration of the University of Memphis and Memphis movie theaters.
Vasco Smith, who died this week from complications resulting from bone cancer, was the first African American elected at large to the County Commission, serving from 1974 to 1993. He was always an eloquent advocate for the dispossessed and was a leader in the movement to establish the Med as a fully equipped successor to John Gaston charity hospital.
Though unyielding in his commitment to equal rights, the genial dentist maintained friendships across all lines — racial, political, social, and ideological. A raconteur, he was famous also as a jazz aficionado, owning an extensive private collection of jazz recordings.
Dr. Smith will be missed, not just in the sentimental or historical sense but because so many people depended so long on his wit, intelligence, and simple good cheer.