Not Waiting on Legislature, the County Commission Opts to Expand the Unified School Board

Resister Roland threatens to get allies in Nashville and "bomb your Hiroshima!"



Almost lost in the shuffle of other events, ranging from the John Aitken buyout to the advancement of municipal-schools legislation in Nashville, was the County Commission’s adoption Monday of a resolution to expand the forthcoming Unified School Board from 7 members to 13.

In a previous status conference, presiding federal Judge Hardy Mays had approved such a prospect in general, but he still must sign off on it formally, County Attorney Kelly Rayne informed commissioners during debate on the matter Monday.

Chairman Ritz urged passage.
  • Chairman Ritz urged passage.
"I don’t know why we’re in a big hurry on this,” said District 4 representative Chris Thomas early on, sounding a note that would be picked up by the rest of the suburban contingent, his — and their —point being that passage of municipal-schools legislation would create some obvious complications and long-term overlaps.

Specifically, Commissioner Heidi Shafer raised the prospect that money might eventually flow directly to the prospective suburban districts from the state, bypassing the County Commission as disburser and wondered, regarding these outer-county areas, “if we could unrepresent them later on …when it becomes apparent that they don’t need double representation.” Where the official county district was concerned, they would not, after all, have “skin in the game.”

Steve Basar raised a question about what “the optimum number” of a school board should be, Calling the current 23-member provisional School Board “dysfunctional,” Basar noted that soon enough 16 holdover members from the previous boards of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools would fall off, leaving 7 newly elected members for the Unified board, and said, those seven should “have a shot at it…before we go monkey with it.”

Regarding the issue of waiting on Nashville to act, a contrary point was raised by Commissioner Sidney Chism, who noted that Judge Mays, not the General Assembly, would be the ultimate arbiter, and insisted, “We don’t need to waste any time in trying to create a decent board that’s fairly representative of all the citizens in this city and this county.”

Roland in action
  • Roland in action
Various motions to defer a decision on the issue of expansion were proffered — for a month, two months, or until Rayne could furnish a new opinion on some of the future-tense issues. At least one of these motions was adopted, then promptly reconsidered. Also defeated were a motion from Justin Ford to reconstitute the board as a 9-member body and another by Thomas to form a committee charged with determining just what the appropriate size of the board should be.

In the end, urged on by Commission chairman Mike Ritz, the Commission approved the motion to expand to a 13-member Unified board by a vote of 8-4 with one abstention. The abstention was by Commissioner Terry Roland of Millington, who had denounced the whole idea as “idiotic” and proclaimed of the Commission majority, “The reason why there is a rush is, they ..know already who they want to put on this board.”

Roland concluded his commentary on the matter with one of the more memorable lines of the current Commission year: “Just like World War Two I’m going to Nashville to get my allies, and I’m coming back to bomb your Hiroshima!”

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