Pickler Warns of ‘Consequences’ With MCS Charter Surrender

By Bill Dries

Shelby County school board chairman David Pickler says the school system will live up to its responsibilities to run what is now the Memphis City Schools system if voters approve an MCS charter surrender.

But Pickler said it will be difficult coming up with a transition plan in such a short time period. And Pickler said he and the other elected board members will be in charge at least through 2012.

“We will take on the responsibility,” Pickler said. “But it will come with a cost.”

That cost could include no union representation for teachers of a combined school system since the county school system currently has no union representation for teachers. And school system contracts could go to the county standard of lowest and best bids with no goals for percentages of contracts to go to minority-owned businesses.

Two days before the Shelby County Election Commission meets to consider putting the MCS charter surrender on a February election ballot, Pickler made a last appeal for the MCS board to reconsider or rescind its approval of the charter surrender resolution, calling it “irresponsible” and “mind-boggling.”

Monday’s press conference by Pickler and county school system leaders seemed, however, a tacit acknowledgement that a February referendum is likely and any move by the MCS board to reconsider or rescind its action is unlikely.

A consolidation of the two school systems would be the effect of voter approval of the MCS charter surrender and Pickler called such a merger a “shotgun wedding.”

He also emphasized that the county school board is leaving all of its “legal and legislative” options on the table to contest or undo such a result.

Pickler wouldn’t be more specific about what those options are. But he said he believes Shelby County residents outside Memphis should have a chance to vote in the referendum.

That is one of numerous legal questions theorized by different sides in the controversy since before the MCS board’s Dec. 20 vote to approve the charter surrender.

MCS board members favoring the charter surrender have said they are certain state law requires a vote by Memphians and only Memphians.

Pickler also warned that a countywide school system would lose the $78 million in annual funding from the city of Memphis that now comes to MCS. It’s another point in dispute.

Pickler also said a consolidated countywide school system would be run by the existing philosophy of the county school system and acknowledged there are different outlooks on operations between Shelby County’s two public school systems.

Pickler left no doubt that the county school system’s administration would change by the very nature of becoming a system of approximately 150,000 students. But he also said he saw no reason to stray from the philosophy used by the county school system currently in running a smaller school system.

With five of the other six board members standing behind him, Pickler ticked off a list of “consequences” and unanswered questions about what happens with an MCS charter surrender. He denied the list amounted to “scare tactics.”

“We don’t need rhetoric,” he said. “These are the facts.”

County schools superintendent John Aitken said he and MCS officials are beginning talks on a transition scenario

“We are now requesting information,” he said of talks between the two school systems who occupy the same building near The Fairgrounds. “We are setting up teams. Those are starting.”