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Too Close for Comfort

Sex-offender unit opens near elementary school.

By Mary Cashiola

In June, the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole opened a brand-new building in Memphis to serve as a resource center and to house, among other things, the unit that handles paroled sex offenders. Neighbors of the new building include an apartment complex, some fast-food restaurants, and Delano Elementary School.

At a regional meeting last month, state employees expressed concern over the proximity of the building and the elementary school. The building on Overton Crossing is less than a quarter-mile -- measured by the Flyer at about 1,060 feet -- away from the Frayser elementary school.

By law, convicted sex offenders must register with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and cannot live or work within 1,000 feet of an elementary school. When contacted, probation and parole regional director Helen Ford said that the law does not encompass a building like theirs but said that the state did measure the distance. She could not say exactly how far away it is, but believed it is more than 1,000 feet from the school.

Since sex offenders report to the building every day to meet with parole officers, the proximity to the school also concerns state representative Ulysses Jones. He is currently investigating just how the building came to be built in that community. "To me, that's like having a sugar addict in a candy store. To put that building there, someone dropped the ball."

A spokesman for the Memphis City Schools said no one at the board's central office had been notified of the new building or its function, but that students' safety was one of their main priorities.

The parole board recently announced an adopt-a-school partnership with Walker Elementary in South Memphis.

A Place in History

Former bus depot nominated for National Register.

By Janel Davis

In a few months, Shelby County could have another property on the National Register of Historic Places if the former Dixie Greyhound Bus Lines Complex's bid is approved by the state review board next week.

The old bus depot at 525 N. Main, constructed in 1928, once housed the thriving bus company owned by transportation entrepreneur James Frederick Smith, father of FedEx founder Frederick W. Smith. The property measures a little more than one acre and once included a passenger waiting room, concrete bank vault, and bus repair garage.

For the past four years, the complex has been the home of Downtown Self-Storage, owned by J.D. Ballinger. Since moving into the building, the company has tried to maintain its history.

"Everything we're doing and have done is along the lines of preservation and restoration and not so much renovation," said building manager Richard Hall. Although the buses are long gone, Hall's construction of office spaces, workrooms, and art rooms has managed to keep Greyhound wall images, original ceilings, and even ticket counters. In place of the buses are boats, cars, and a Bountiful Blessings production truck in spaces rented mostly by downtown Memphians.

To be considered for the register, properties must be associated with events that have made contributions to history; associated with the lives of significant people from the past; embody characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction; and yield important historical information. Except in the most extreme cases, properties must also be at least 50 years old.

Eight new sites and one reassessment site will also be voted on by state officials next week, with Dixie Greyhound being Shelby County's only submission. Once Tennessee's list is approved and submitted to the National Park Service, a decision to list the property will be made within 45 days.

An Ugly Turn

Judge denies motions in He case.

By Janel Davis

In their most difficult court appearance yet, Jack and Casey He lost three important rulings in the latest hearing regarding the fate of their 4-year-old daughter, Anna Mae.

For three years the couple has fought for the return of their daughter from Jerry and Louise Baker, with whom she has resided since 1999.

After lengthy arguments by their attorney, David Siegel, the Bakers' attorney, Larry Parrish, and a state district attorney, Chancellor D.J. Allissandratos denied the Hes' motions for a summary judgment, jury trial, and bifurcation (or separation) of court decisions. With these decisions, the Bakers' petition for termination of the Hes' parental rights and the Bakers' petition for adoption will be decided September 29th by Allissandratos.

Since the beginning of the custody battle, the Hes have described in great detail how the Bakers have not only used their money and influence to keep their child but also that the court proceedings have been unfairly structured against them. In contrast, the Bakers and Parrish have said little to nothing about the case outside of the courtroom, even declining to counter the Hes' accusations.

During arguments, Parrish interjected points of credibility regarding the Chinese couple and their attempts to regain custody of their daughter. He questioned the Hes' possible motive for continuing proceeding and lack of financial support for Anna Mae, using statements from Mr. He's deposition.

"The credibility of Mr. He has always been a smokescreen designed to anger the court against the Hes," said Siegel. "The Bakers knew the Hes were having immigration problems, and they exploited those problems."

If the Bakers are successful in their petition at the end of this month, the Hes could permanently lose any rights to Anna Mae, who could then be adopted by the Bakers.

On Target?

School board questions federal guidelines.

By Mary Cashiola

Memphis City Schools board commissioners say the new No Child Left Behind act, a federal law designed to raise educational standards, is doing just that: leaving children behind.

"[The federal government] doesn't know what effect these standards will have," said board commissioner Wanda Halbert. "It isn't fair to children in public schools; it isn't fair to children in large urban districts. We have a number of issues before you even get to test scores at a federal level."

When the state came out last week with its annual list of low-performing schools, Memphis had 105 on the target list, 22 on the probation improving list, and 22 on the corrective action list. The Shelby County school system had 16 schools on the target list.

Target schools are schools that do not meet federal benchmarks in any one subgroup; the target designation is considered a sort of "heads up."

At the last board meeting, Bill White, executive director of district research, testing, and accountability, explained the ratings, pointing out that it takes two years for schools to become a high-priority school and at least two years for a school to get off the list. Additionally, categories except attendance will need to be at 100 percent by 2013 to keep schools off the lists. For instance, in 2013, all elementary school students will be expected to be proficient or above in reading, language arts, and math. That year, high school graduation rates will also need to be at 100 percent. The figure does not take into account students who graduate after four years plus a summer, students who earn their GED, or students who receive a special-education diploma. All those affect schools' data negatively.

"Wouldn't this be characterized as a flaw?" Commissioner Lora Jobe asked. "Something that needs to be handled legislatively?"

White said the district was especially concerned about special-education and students for whom English is a second language. "We have a running list of questions and it grows every day," he said.

Other commissioners were concerned about early graduations, the lack of makeup days for standardized testing, and attendance rates.

"We're not trying to cop out on our responsibility but there are inherent flaws in this legislation," said Commissioner Deni Hirsh.

Halbert proposed a fast-track resolution to have the policy committee look at the potential negative impacts the legislation would have on students. It is expected to be presented at the second board meeting in October.

But Commissioner Michael Hooks cautioned the board from only focusing on the good. "We still have 22 schools that have not shown adequate progress," he said. "Where are we on those schools that face state takeover?"

Last year, Memphis City Schools had 12 schools on the improving list, 20 on notice, and 46 on probation. Thirty-two of the schools were moved from those lists to the target list.

Board president Carl Johnson held a press conference Tuesday to discuss the lists. "High-stakes testing is a political process," he said.

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