The most important part of a high-stakes, convoluted political drama started Feb. 16 when Memphians began casting early ballots on the schools consolidation question.
The events in this drama that began with the Nov. 2 election results have been unlike any other political potboiler this area has seen in some time.
There was no study. There were no long meetings where hours were spent on just the right wording to go in a report that would be put on a shelf.
There was a quick move to the ballot and all of the middlemen and power brokers that normally bog down such undertakings with their talismans and rituals had to hold on for the ride.
To be sure, they have had their moments in all of this.
What you decide during this early voting period and on the March 8 Election Day will be more complex than the 22-word question on the ballot.
As this week’s cover story explains, the short but full timeline of reaction upon reaction has made the task of voters more complex. But the question was already complicated.
A “yes” vote sets in motion a transition period in state law that didn’t exist when the question was put on the election schedule. The law will probably be challenged in court, meaning there is a fair amount of uncertainty about just how a school merger would take place.
But it would happen.
A “no” vote might leave the two school systems separate and possibly decide that specific issue for a lifetime. But it could give a direction to discussions about single source education funding and other long-standing issues that have been sheltered for too long under the headings of “what if” or “pie in the sky.”
Those issues should be resolved even if it’s not by this referendum. The sad history of how past discussions have run aground suggests a strong voter turnout even if the ballot question is rejected could be just what is needed to more emphasis on action and less on reinventing the wheel as busy work.
Sometimes, the more we plan and seek consensus at all costs, the more controversial details are likely to get pushed down the road for later.
Public education in Memphis and Shelby County was one of those too hot topics as the metro charter commission drafted a consolidation charter. The group left schools out in the belief it would give consolidation of the rest of local government a better chance at the polls.
It didn’t, and the legacy of the charter effort may be that we shouldn’t underestimate our ability to handle controversial issues head on and with some sense of urgency.
It is time to decide. And after voting on this question, it may be time for a season of other long delayed decisions about education in our community.