VOL. 125 | NO. 249 | Thursday, December 23, 2010
Elected Officials Ponder Future of MCS
By Bill Dries
Local elected leaders outside the Memphis City Schools system have wasted little time in setting the stage for possible scenarios that would follow a charter surrender by the school system next year.
MCS board members approved the charter surrender Monday, subject to a special referendum for Memphis voters probably in February or March.
Memphis City Hall emerged as an early front in what comes next. It certainly won’t be the only vantage point.
Memphis City Council chairman Harold Collins offered an interpretation of what a MCS charter surrender would mean. He said a combination of city and county school systems means “the mandated funding laid out by the city charter will come to an end.”
But he added the council has the authority to continue city funding for a consolidated school system through a foundation or nonprofit organization.
It is an important distinction the city of Memphis and MCS have been arguing about in court since the current council approved its first city budget in 2008. And it is another indicator that the charter surrender move is realigning political alliances from related issues.
Collins and other council members contend the city should not be obligated to provide a certain level of funding or “maintenance of effort” as it is called in state law. Two courts disagreed after the school system sued the city. The Tennessee Supreme Court refused to hear the city’s appeal.
Since then, the city and MCS have been battling over the terms of paying the approximately $54 million the courts have said the city owes MCS.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. made it clear before this week’s MCS vote that his preference would have been a delay for a stand-down by both school systems.
“The key now is not to get into lambasting the school board. Let’s take what has happened and what may happen and find the best way to get something positive for the children,” Wharton said, adding this could be an opportunity to start fresh and have the city involved in the schools in some way other than how money should be spent.
The Shelby County Commission would draw new district lines for a countywide school board taking in Memphis if Memphis voters approve the charter surrender.
And Collins, whose year-long term of council chairman runs out at the end of this month, said he wants to see the council work with the commission “to ensure the best transition possible and to make sure that we do all we can to avoid any negative impact on not only our schoolchildren but all citizens of both of our great city and our great county.”