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VOL. 125 | NO. 82 | Wednesday, April 28, 2010

County School Board Races Shoot Sparks

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County school board candidates Ken Hoover and David Reaves talk after a League of Women Voters forum this month in Germantown.
Photo: Bill Dries

They tend to be the forgotten races when a statewide primary race for governor and general election races for county mayor and sheriff compete for voters’ attention.

But the set of Shelby County school board races also on the Aug. 5 ballot already are shaping up as a referendum on the current school board.

Four of the seven seats on the school board are up for election in August. The races are nonpartisan, so the August election will decide who gets the seats.

District 7 incumbent Ernest Chism faces no opposition. Two of the other seats will go to new faces.

Lara McIntyre and David Reaves, both parents of Bartlett students, are battling for the District 3 seat Anne Edmiston is giving up.

Snowden Carruthers, a retired county school teacher and administrator, and Charlene White, a Millington parent, are seeking the District 1 seat now held by Sharon Price, who is also not seeking re-election.

County school board chairman David Pickler faces a strong challenge from Ken Hoover in District 5.

The six candidates shared the same stage this month in Germantown at a forum sponsored by The League of Women Voters. It offered a preview of what should be three spirited races that could change the direction of the school board.

All six candidates oppose school system consolidation. All six favor special school district status in state legislation that would make school consolidation impossible.

But four of the six – excluding Pickler and Carruthers – oppose any kind of taxing authority for the school system.

“I think we need to have a little more autonomy on doing what we feel like needs to be done for the students of Shelby County without this thing of always having to share on a per pupil ratio with the city schools,” Carruthers said.

Pickler said the proposal he has made a school board priority doesn’t amount to direct taxing authority for the school systems since any education tax hike ultimately would have to be approved by the Legislature.

Pickler blamed the bill’s defeat on the Memphis school board and Memphis Democrats in the General Assembly.

Hoover blames the bill’s defeat on Pickler’s insistence on keeping some form of taxing authority for the school board attached to it.

Pickler has attributed Hoover’s candidacy to Hoover’s opposition to changes in attendance zones for schools several years ago.

Hoover said his reasons run deeper than that.

“The problem with the process was transparency,” Hoover said, referring to the rezoning process. “Transparency in government means I know what you did. I know why you did it. And I know what rules you followed to get there.”

Pickler said the attendance zone changes were handled poorly because the school system was under a federal court desegregation order.

“We didn’t have the opportunity … to have true control over the system,” Pickler said. “We wanted true engagement.”

Hoover said the court order had little to do with the controversy.

McIntyre said the boundary changes were part of the reason she got in the race.

“I am one of those parents,” she said. “I’ve advocated for this issue for four years.”

Reaves and White were vocal in their criticism of the current board.

“For the past eight years, I don’t think we’ve gotten the appropriate representation at the board and the school level that we need,” Reaves said of the Bartlett area. “That’s why I’m running.”

He also said the board’s funding priorities have resulted in “cannibalizing other schools” and “not providing adequate capital improvement funding.”

“I think we could be better neighbors to our constituents in the Memphis city school system,” White said at one point when asked about splitting taxpayer funding with the school system based on average daily attendance. She favors continuing that under the current system.

She also said the county school system hasn’t made new school buildings in Millington a priority.

“Millington Central High School would not have received the funding it did receive without the help of the County Commission,” White said.

The ongoing controversy over new school construction has included Millington Mayor Richard Hodges among critics of the school system’s construction priorities.

White said the Northaven community in unincorporated North Shelby County would be a perfect place for the county school system’s first charter school.

Carruthers said he doesn’t believe there is much desire for charter schools in the county school system.

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