VOL. 126 | NO. 13 | Thursday, January 20, 2011
Many Reasons for Compromise Failure
By Bill Dries
The Shelby County school system’s compromise offer to the Memphis City Schools board failed this week for a number of reasons.
Those reasons suggest different motives on the MCS board for supporting a charter surrender and turning over the larger school system to the much smaller county school system.
But the political result was a vote Tuesday evening that wasn’t even close.
On the nine-member board, only board president Freda Williams and board member Kenneth Whalum Jr. voted for the compromise.
“This is a takeover in reverse,” Whalum said before declaring the vote was day one of the campaign to the March referendum. He vowed to work for the defeat of the ballot question.
MCS board member Jeff Warren believes there should be a countywide vote and not voting limited to city residents. But his problem was the talks to come under the county schools method would have had too many topics other than consolidation on the table.
He proposed a counter offer that would have let the referendum go ahead, although he said calling off the referendum at least for now might have made county schools leaders more receptive to the counter offer.
But he would have limited the proposed planning committee to studying a single consolidated system broken into several districts instead of the wider range of topics in the county offer that included a special school district for county schools.
He also included a provision to set a specific date in the future for such a school system to start, and he would have required both school systems to lobby in Nashville for legislation to require a countywide vote on such a move toward consolidation.
But he was lectured by fellow board Stephanie Gatewood, who said she opposed but respected his effort to work something out.
“They’ve not changed the agreement at all,” she said, referring to a previous compromise from December. “They have no desire whatsoever to put your edits in the compromise.”
Other board members who opposed the charter surrender resolution approved by the board in December had problems with the county’s compromise offer starting with its requirement that the MCS board rescind its December vote. Others had problems with its requirement of a countywide vote on the matter should it get out of the planning committee as a recommendation.
“What I hear is about power, money and control,” said MCS board member Sara Lewis, who has said the consolidation effort needs more time to work on and spell out a transition. Nevertheless, Lewis was among the board members who had problems with a countywide vote instead of a city only vote.
MCS board member Betty Mallott, considered a swing vote when it was thought the board vote would be closer than it wound up being, said the compromise wasn’t what she expected.
After a county school board meeting in which the county school system’s outside counsel, Chuck Cagle, urged them to begin working now on a transition plan, Mallott said she was prepared for talks or some dialogue on just that.
What put her in the mood for that discussion was Cagle’s likening the MCS board vote in December to the board effectively throwing the keys to the school system on the table and walking away.
“I was a little disappointed when I saw in this agreement that it required us to rescind our vote,” she said. “That it restricted our process of continuing our effort to give up our charter and that it also was fraught with other things to be studied that were pretty remote to us coming together as a district.”
She said she hopes county school leaders will work with the MCS board without the MCS board rescinding the move to the ballot in March.
Warren said he has similar hopes, although he predicts the board’s vote will now speed efforts in Nashville to derail the referendum or change the terms of the vote.
“My proposal’s not dead. Hopefully I can get some feedback from them – from Shelby County,” Warren said after the vote. “The bottom line is this is being pushed for political purposes. There are people doing it politically. There are people doing it out of fear.”