After Merger Ruling, it’s a Matter of Bona Fides

Armed with Judge Mays’ Order, Shelby County School Board asks City Board for everything, including the kitchen sink. Will they get it? And are their intentions pure? Or is an appeal coming?



SCS superintendent John Aitken pledges to do what's right by "the kids."

Periodically, there are circumstances out in the real world that call to mind the boast of necromancer Owen Glendower in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One: “I can call spirits from the very deep.” To which the skeptical Harry Hotspur responds, “Aye, but will they come.”

The conundrum has come up again in the ongoing MCS-SCS school-merger affair.

Operating on the assumption that U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays’ school-merger ruling on Monday had given them sanction, Shelby County Schools authorities resolved at Wednesday’s SCS Board meeting to renew their unheeded January request for full and complete records concerning the operation of Memphis City Schools.

The question remained, however, whether SCS would have better success this time around. And the even more pressing question as to whether the county School Board was prepared to fully accept the Mays ruling also remained unanswered.

On the latter score, SCS Board chairman David Pickler was, to say the least, equivocal. In comments made to reporters after the Board had voted to request the information from MCS, Pickler noted that Judge Mays’ order remains in the pending category until the issue of how to reconstitute the Shelby County Schools board is resolved.

Mays will meet with representatives of the various litigating parties Friday to receive their proposals for reapportioning the Board, whose current composition the judge Mays ruled was unconstitutional.

Pickler expressed himself carefully, making sure to hold on to some options. “The ruling has not yet been made final. I’m not saying we’re going to appeal. I’m not saying we’re not going to appeal. That’s driven by the nature of the final document. Now that the judge has given a ruling on the basic issues perhaps we can reach an agreement between all the parties with respect to some of the remaining issues.”

The SCS Board chairman wasn’t ambivalent on the score of the information requested of MCS, however. “We have been given direct instructions by the judge,” he said, echoing the sentiment expressed in the resolution just passed by his board, which quotes Mays as enjoining the SCS Board to make “present decisions” regarding the future of Memphis public schools, teachers, and students and goes on to declare therefore that “it is necessary” for the SCS Board “to have immediate access to information that is possessed by the Memphis City Board of Education….”

But which SCS Board — the current one, regarded by Mays as unconstitutional in a merged system, or the newly apportioned one he has asked the litigating parties to provide plans for?

Pickler was categorical about that: “At this point, this Board has been given this responsibility, and were not going to shirk our responsibility.” Until a future ruling says otherwise, “we are the Shelby County Board.”

The SCS chairman got some backing on that point from the immediate past chairman of the Memphis City Schools Board, Freda Williams, who attended Wednesday’s meeting. “The Shelby County Board will lead this process. At the time this is the SCS Board. It’s appropriate for them to begin this process.”

And she fully backed the SCS request for immediate and complete access to MCS’s store of information. ”All of this is information that has to be requested and received for transition to occur.”

Williams was asked if she heard any ambiguity at Wednesday’s meeting regarding SCS’s resolve to go forward with a merger that she, who had opposed it originally now accepts as a “done deal.”

“I don’t get that sense from what I heard here today,” she said.

Betty Mallott, another attendee from the MCS Board, was not so sure, however. “I feel like they were saying that ‘we don’t accept this entirely.’ That’s why they said ‘we’ll continue to work with our attorneys’.”

On the other matter, as to how soon MCS might choose to comply with the SCS request for the city school system’s internal information, there were varying expectations among Shelby County Schools officials.

SCS Board attorney Valerie Speakman noted, as Pickler had done, that much of the same information had been sought in vain from MCS in January.

“They kept telling us, ‘we’ll get it to you, we’ll get it to you, we’ll get it to you,’ and we never got it.” Speakman said the most recent ignored request has occurred on July 1. Ergo, said Speakman, “I wouldn’t think there would be immediate access.”

But Superintendent John Aitken, who had earlier [see video,]voiced a firm resolve to cooperate with the process and who acknowledged he is a likely candidate to head an enlarged all-county district, said,” I think we’re get a more favorable response, because the judge has ruled.”

Speakman, Aitken, and Pickler agreed on one thing. Wednesday’s request for MCS information by SCS amounted to asking for full and complete and total access to every scrap of information that had to do with MCS operations. Everything in the building, including the kitchen sink.

“Absolutely,” said Speakman, “because how do you plan for the future if you don’t know what’s there?”

SCS chair David Pickler (right) reads Board resolution, as vice chair Mike Wissman listens. - JB
  • JB
  • SCS chair David Pickler (right) reads Board resolution, as vice chair Mike Wissman listens.


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