The MGT report on the Memphis City Schools analyzes the performance of the district, offers a number of suggestions for cost savings, and illuminates a number of ill-conceived moves the district has made in recent years (see Cover Story, page 14). The report suggests that more than $114 million can be saved in the next five years if the report's recommendations are followed.
These changes include specific areas of improvement, such as reworking the district's poorly conceived busing contract with Laidlaw. But it also makes clear that overarching changes in attitude are also necessary. The report says that many city schools are underpopulated and should be consolidated with other schools in the district. The school board has been reluctant to close such schools in the past and has in fact proposed spending millions on air-conditioning and other maintenance on said schools.
We urge the board to follow through on the MGT recommendations. This will take political courage and a heretofore unprecedented willingness to cooperate with one another. But by eliminating the planned spending of millions of dollars on unnecessary improvements and upkeep, the district would have millions more to spend on teacher salaries, better equipment, and obtaining a truly world-class superintendent.
The board has a tremendous opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of our children -- and, ultimately, in the future of this city. Imagine the possibilities for Memphis if its school system became known as one of the nation's best. It's an opportunity that shouldn't be wasted.
What They Do
Back in the salad days of the Nixon presidency and its "Southern strategy" for getting votes, there was a saying attributed to John Mitchell, Nixon's first attorney general and one of several administration figures who would ultimately serve time as a result of Watergate misdeeds. "Watch what we do, not what we say" was the message Mitchell was alleged to have passed on to that administration's Deep South sympathizers -- overwhelmingly white and prone to nervousness about civil rights advances.
For all his innate deviousness, Richard Nixon was a blundering amateur in such matters: He got caught over and over and finally decisively. Far more talented is the Teflon-coated proprietor of the current national administration. As numerous pundits have pointed out, President Bush has been unusually active in saying one thing and doing another in the sphere of civil rights. On the one hand, the president made sure that Trent Lott of Mississippi got replaced as Senate majority leader for his naughty act of speaking out of turn about the virtues of segregation. And the president joined in the ritual denunciations of "prejudice" in this week of commemorations for the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On the other hand, Bush made bold to renominate U.S. Judge Charles Pickering, a Lott protégé, for a federal appeals court vacancy. Pickering had already been turned down by the Senate last year for past actions that seemed racially tinged. And the president made a point of intervening against a University of Michigan affirmative-action policy now being adjudicated.
"Watch what we do, not what we say." Meanwhile, Tennessee's two GOP senators are doing their best to stay in step with their leader. On the saying side, junior senator Lamar Alexander has so far proved more fluent ( see Politics, page 10), while Majority Leader Bill Frist has stumbled on his own tongue trying to square the Bushian circle. We hope against hope that both will still find a way to be independent-minded and responsible at the level of deeds.