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VOL. 126 | NO. 29 | Friday, February 11, 2011




Unity, Plan Needed for Schools

MARK NORRIS

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Mark Norris

The recent documentary concerning what ails public education in urban America, “Waiting for Superman,” observes there’s more concern about upsetting the adults than doing what’s necessary to educate their children.

Recent events in Memphis, putting adult interests ahead of students, seem to bear this out.

The Memphis City Schools board’s resolution to liquidate has everyone upset for one reason or another. We have yet to hear how doing so benefits a single child.

My friend of 30 years, Dan Conaway, whose column regularly appears here, is upset. I’ve been asked to offer a contrary opinion. It’s hard to know where to begin when every column Dan writes these days ends with, “I’m a Memphian, and I’m… (fill in the blank with what upsets Dan this week).

For many years, my family lived right across the street from Dan’s in Memphis. He and I volunteered together for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Memphis. When I conceived the annual campaign to send children to the Boys and Girls Club camp at Sardis Lake, Dan and I crafted the first fundraising letter to make it happen. I even helped Dan with legislation he needed last year.

But something’s changed. Now, he sees me as “the slicker, Collierville Republican … pushing legislation to change state law after the fact, put everything off for at least a year, and sneak the county voters in to squash any school consolidation effort. No election now. … These all-white, all-male, all-knowing suburbanites want uppity city folks put in their proper place. Not voting.

Butt out …”

Wrong.

SB25 does not interfere with the March 8 referendum in any way. If a majority of those voting in the referendum vote to transfer the city schools to Shelby County, a planning commission is empowered to plan an orderly transition assuring a unified and balanced county system.

The city schools rely on Section 502 of the Tennessee Code governing education and the administration of schools. Although 502 has been on the books since 1948, it has never been invoked.

The commissioner of education says “it’s an anomaly in the sense that this special school district law … didn’t set out a clear process for how (the transfer) would be effective.” The attorney general says the law is “vague.”

Only three sentences, Section 502 has been invoked by the state’s largest special district to consolidate into the country’s 16th largest school system more than doubling the size of county schools in less than 30 days with absolutely no plan in place; 150,935 students, 10,025 teachers and 647 administrators. The commissioner requires a plan. Superintendants Cash and Aitken advise they need until at least 2013 if the referendum passes.

The state has a compelling interest in assuring that the administration of schools is properly discharged. To do otherwise defies common sense and common decency. Tennessee funds Memphis and Shelby County Schools to the tune of $630,515,086 million per year.

The magnitude of this undertaking and the potential consequences to thousands of Tennesseans, make SB25 compelling: Providing a roadmap for transition, which assures a quality education and a stable tax base.

If the City Council dissolves the city schools before an opportunity to vote, it will not be us depriving rights of self-determination.

All we seek is an orderly and thoughtful plan. Unification without unity defeats its purpose.

Dan, if you seek unification, unity and a plan for it is preferred.

Norris, a Collierville Republican, is Tennessee state Senate majority leader.

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