There have been question and answer sessions this week – debates and townhall meetings on the schools referendum.
But a townhall meeting in North Memphis Thursday evening turned into a campaign rally for the Memphis City Schools charter surrender on the March 8 ballot.
Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks hosted the meeting at Hollywood Community Center. It drew a standing room only crowd of over 100 to hear from a panel that included former Memphis Mayor and MCS superintendent Dr. Willie Herenton and other advocates of the charter surrender.
“This is about power and control,” Herenton said to cheers from the crowd as he urged citizens to vote for the charter surrender “to equalize educational opportunity.”
He also took on the Shelby County school system and in particular county school board chairman David Pickler.
“They have always thought they were superior,” he said of the county school system. “They just simply have different students.”
Of Pickler, he said, “With his ideology, If he is against this, you have to be for it.”
Herenton and other speakers also criticized some elected leaders they didn’t name who have not come out publicly for or against the referendum question.
Cardell Orrin of the pro consolidation group Citizens for Better Education said the group is about to open campaign headquarters in Whitehaven and East Memphis and is ready to begin a yard sign campaign.
Brooks and County Commission chairman Sidney Chism also said the commission will continue its work on preparing new district lines for a majority Memphis countywide school board should the charter surrender be approved. The commission has just begun the once a decade redistricting process for itself and the school board taking into account the 2010 U.S. census.
Pickler disputes the power of the commission to add seats to the existing county board and appoint interim members to the board soon after the referendum.
“The day this vote is certified, we’re going to work to make sure he don’t have no control,” Chism said of Pickler. “We got this.”
The community center session was one of three across the city Thursday evening held by different elected leaders.