School Merger: Too Many Cooks and Nobody "Chopped"


The schools merger needs a General Patton, or someone like him, to take command and give orders.

Maybe you remember the scene in the movie where George C. Scott as Patton comes upon a bunch of trucks and tanks gridlocked in the mud, and he wades into the mess, directs traffic, and pretty soon we're back on the way to beating the Germans.

"I don't want to get any messages saying that we are holding our position. We're not holding anything. Let the Hun do that. We're gonna go through him like crap through a goose," Scott says in one of the great motivational speeches in moviedom.

Or maybe you've seen "Chopped," the Food Network program in which four chefs compete before a panel of judges that chops one of them after each course. The chopped chef smiles in resignation and goes home.

And if cooking shows are foreign to you, then watch this clip from YouTube of variations of "sit down and shut up" in 70 movies.

We don't need the menace or profanity, but the command and authority would be nice. This is not a drill. This is not a consultant's report that can be put on a shelf and ignored, thank you very much. There is no do-nothing option and no going back to 2010 and separate city and county school systems. This is about payroll, school lunches, school bus schedules, attendance zones, and all the minutia of running a system that could potentially have 150,000 students and maybe 25,000 employees and impact everyone in Memphis and Shelby County as much as anything since the court-ordered busing and subsequent white flight of 1973. This is a big deal.

If the Transition Planning Commission's plan isn't accepted, then the unified school board will have to come up with something else, and that is like saying the students will decide what they want to do for the rest of the year. The 23-member school board is unstable, not mentally but structurally. There will be an election for seven positions in August, and in 2013 the board will shrink to the newbies and then possibly expand to up to 13 members.

The Tennessee state attorney general? Just another lawyer with an opinion, in the minds of some legislators and TPC members.

The superintendents? Neither one has been promised the job, and Kriner Cash is on the move.

The state legislature? A majority would vote for Tennessee seceding from Shelby County.

The Shelby County Commission or Memphis City Council? Please.

Our best hope is the TPC, with fresh guidance and affirmation from U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays via appointment of a special master — someone who can say, politely but firmly, get these trucks moving, you've been chopped, or sit down and shut up.

The TPC is facing a bear of a month of meetings in May to come up with a plan for a unfied system in June.
Most of these good and smart folks are volunteering their time, or their employers are donating their time. But it is the unified school board, according to Judge Mays' ruling, that has the power for "making all transition decisions, operating the two separate school systems, and providing information to the Commissioner of Education."

So far the special master that Mays spoke of in last order has not been appointed, and the TPC does not have the power to ask for one. I won't pretend to understand the fine points of special masters, but it sounds to me like a good thing right now, or else we're stuck in the mud.

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