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City Reporter



Taking Other Actions

"Other" minorities offered perks at historically black schools.

By Janel Davis

Although President George W. Bush has come under fire for opposing affirmative-action admission policies at higher-education institutions, specifically at the University of Michigan, many majority African-American colleges offer a variety of incentives to increase their non-black enrollment.

"[The United Negro College Fund] does not even respond to that," said Maurice Jenkins, the UNCF's Southeast regional vice president, about Bush's position. "Our schools have always been diversified and open to anyone."

A stroll along the campus of Memphis' LeMoyne-Owen College reveals a concerted effort for a diversified population. The college is one of 105 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) established prior to 1964 and whose principal mission was the education of black Americans. "The white students that we have here feel comfortable," said Harmon Dunathan, the college's director of institution research. "The difficulty in diversifying the student body lies in the eye of the student." What was once an "all-black" school has evolved into an institution of various races. Of the college's 1,200 students, almost 40 students are non-black. While the school does not offer monetary awards to its non-black students, the administration realizes the importance of a diverse student body.

"Right now our school does not have scholarships catering specifically to other races," said Lonnie Morris Jr., LeMoyne-Owen's admissions and recruitment director. "But diversity has become a requirement for accreditation by several of the college accreditation boards." LeMoyne-Owen, one of six HBCUs in Tennessee and one of three UNCF members in the state, has extended its recruitment efforts to meet these requirements, as well as diversify their teaching staff.

Tennessee State University (TSU) in Nashville offers monetary awards to its non-black students. The college's Minority Grant Program provides scholarships to non-black students who have a 2.5 grade point average, make 19 or above on the ACT, and are residents of Tennessee. "Our school is 18 to 20 percent non-black [out of 8,900 students], which, in our case, means Caucasian students," said John Cade, dean of the school's admissions department. "We average 90-100 students each fall semester who receive the grant. It has become a great marketing tool with respect to increasing diversity."

In addition to the grant program, TSU holds a speakers' forum each semester featuring non-black speakers and a "minority" recruitment fair each spring.

While Cade said the situation at the University of Michigan does not usually trickle down to undergraduate admissions, he admitted that HBCUs typically "don't pull the race card" because of their open-admissions policy.

New Look for the News

WPTY and WLMT hope changes will boost ratings.

By Bianca Phillips

After almost seven years of holding down last place in local television news ratings, WPTY-TV Channel 24 is finally taking a stand with a total newscast makeover. Some changes are already on the air, but on Super Bowl Sunday, Eyewitness News will unveil its new set and new graphics, intros, and music. Sister station WLMT-TV Channel 30 will also see some changes.

"We've changed everything from something as subtle as the carpet in the newsroom to something as major as the anchor team," said Jim Turpin, news director for both stations. "We've changed the way we look at stories, and we're doing a lot more live coverage."

A change in anchor personnel has already taken place over the last month. Cameron Harper and Dee Griffin replaced the old news team of Bill Lunn, Renee Malone, Michelle Robinson, and Ken Houston. Harper, who honed his skills in Phoenix, Dallas, and San Francisco, started at the end of December. Griffin, who previously anchored in Kansas City, joined the station the first week of January. They will be delivering the 5, 6, and 10 p.m. newscasts on WPTY and the 9 p.m. newscast on WLMT.

Clear Channel Television exempted the former anchors from the clause in their contracts that prohibits working on-air in a competitive market for six months following their employment at Clear Channel. Turpin says the anchors began leaving in November, staggering their exits through December. Lunn is now co-anchoring the noon weekday newscast at WMC-TV Channel 5.

"In general, anchors get credit when things go well and too much criticism when things go badly. If an incorrect graphic comes up, the viewer's going to blame the anchor and that's not fair," said Turpin. "Unfortunately, our anchors were definitely being blamed by the viewers for the bad performance of the news department. I really wasn't sure there was any way to convince Memphis that anything had changed, so we decided to start clean."

Besides a new look, Turpin said the station will also have a renewed dedication to accuracy. He said every story will be run through an ethical filter and claimed they will never do a story in the name of ratings.

"We would rather be second to do a story and have it right than be first and get it wrong," said Turpin. "A lot of times when breaking news reports go out in the city, they're wrong at first, and I think that's a sin. I think it has to stop and we're going to be part of the solution."

Turpin said Clear Channel spent about $750,000 on the changes to both stations.

Going Off-Track

MATA swaps trolleys for buses.

By Mary Cashiola

Even with no trolleys at all, the Main Street trolley line is still the Memphis Area Transit Authority's most fun means of transportation.

Last week, MATA began running eight trolley act-alike shuttle buses while trackwork for the new Medical Center Rail Extension is being completed.

"We made it match the trolley as much as possible, just with the colors and the lettering on the placards," said Alison Burton, a MATA spokesperson. "We thought we'd have a little fun with it while we had to have them out there."

Using buses already in MATA's fleet, the public transportation system repainted them as trolleys and set them up on a five- to seven-minute schedule. They are the same hours, same fares, even the same drivers as the regular trolleys. Trolley drivers, who are already licensed commercial drivers, took a refresher course to drive the buses.

Burton said she doesn't know how much it cost to paint or run the trolley buses but said money for the project comes out of the rail-extension funding. MATA's base bus fare is $1.25; trolley fares are 60 cents.

So far, the project seems to be going well. Burton said ridership figures are comparable to this time of year for the trolley.

"We tried to pick a time of year to do this work when it would have the least adverse impact to riders and businesses," she said. Trolleys should be running again in mid-March. During the shutdown, MATA plans to work on the existing trolley lines, as well.

One Board, One Sound

School board holds retreat to discuss issues, resolve differences.

By Mary Cashiola

Memphis City Schools board commissioner Hubon "Dutch" Sandridge wanted the board's construction committee retreat to be just like the movie Drumline. Well, without all the dancing and drumming, presumably.

"We're not here for debate. We're here for discussion and dialogue," said the committee chairman. "Our motto for today is going to be 'One Band, One Sound.'"

Last weekend, the MCS school board met with members of the district's staff, including Superintendent Johnnie B. Watson and Associate Superintendents Bob Archer and Roland McElrath, and decided to re-bid the Longview and Whitney schools HVAC project. But changing the board and staff's relationship seemed to be the unofficial topic of the day.

"On a number of occasions, I've questioned the superintendent's and the staff's support of the board," said Commissioner Wanda Halbert. "The superintendent has said he's never made negative statements about the board, but when erroneous information is in the paper about the board, no one from the staff tries to correct that."

Even within the room, staff sat on one side and commissioners huddled on the other. New commissioner Deni Hirsh used her outsider status to try to get both sides to admit they made mistakes during the previous few months, if only by not communicating with the other.

The superintendent, for one, vowed there would be change in his last year on the job. "I have not been hands-on in committee meetings," said Watson. During the HVAC controversy, members of the construction committee have maintained that the staff recommended the project during a committee meeting. But after a who-said-what debate, it turned out that conversation was either never recorded or the tape was erased. "I have to reprioritize my schedule and actively attend committee meetings," Watson said. "My staff is there, but there is no substitute for sitting in committee and hearing for yourself."

The superintendent refrained from letting other staff members address the problem. "I'm not going to be a lame-duck superintendent," he said. "This year, I didn't work on December 31. Next year, I'm going to make decisions until 5 o'clock on December 31. I'm going to work with you in a way I have not in previous years."

The superintendent refrained from commenting on the controversial HVAC project until the last board meeting, when he recommended that the board readvertise the project and put a freeze on all construction projects that had not been approved by the board.

That plan seemed to go over well with most of the board. Questions were raised as to whether the projects were even necessary because of declining enrollment, or if the two projects should be bid separately. The board also shared a memo from Wooten/J&A Mechanical which stated that the firm was willing to do the work for a maximum $10.8 million.

And with a moratorium on funding from Partners in Public Education hanging over the district's head until they implement recommendations from the recent MGT study, the board and staff discussed bringing the division of facility planning in-house.

Through a 1993 contract, the division was farmed out to ServiceMaster. It was then renewed for five more years in 1998, during which time ARAMARK bought ServiceMaster. Overall, the MGT audit recommended the district outsource more of its nonclassroom functions and concentrate on teaching.

Watson, who initially recommended transfer of the division in-house starting July 1, 2004, said the reason for the change would only be to save money. The MGT audit said the district could save a million dollars annually by bringing the department in-house. An additional study commissioned by Watson put the annual savings at about half that.

While MGT commended ServiceMaster's work, some commissioners questioned that distinction in light of the mold situation at East High and the lead situation at Humes Middle schools.

"Are there more schools out there that have these problems?" asked Hirsh. "Isn't some of that preventable if the maintenance is done correctly?"

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