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VOL. 126 | NO. 41 | Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cash Says Ballot Question Short On Answers For Voters

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash said Monday it’s not clear what voters in the March 8 referendum are deciding.

Cash challenged MCS board members to fill in the blank with sentences beginning with “A yes vote is a vote for –“ and “A no vote is a vote for – “.

“I can guarantee you there is a lot of confusion about what is being asked by that question,” Cash said. “Something of this importance and this magnitude should not be voted on viscerally or emotionally.”

MCS board member Tomeka Hart, however, thought the question was “inappropriate.”

“The only way to answer that is that’s a political question.”

“It was an effort to inform,” Cash replied.

It was also the latest indication to critics of Cash’s opposition to the ballot question although Cash insisted he’s not taking a position. Cash allied himself with Shelby County school superintendent John Aitken last month in backing the Norris-Todd bill in the Tennessee legislature that delayed any schools consolidation for two and a half years.

MCS board attorney Dorsey Hopson joined in Monday’s discussion by saying first and foremost the March 8 vote is about the 22 word ballot question.

“Shall the administration of the Memphis City School system, a special school district, be transferred to the Shelby County Board of Education.”

From there, Hopson said a yes vote triggers a two and a half year planning process and the appointment of a consolidation planning commission and also would lift the ban on special school and municipal school districts sought by schools consolidation opponents in the county outside Memphis. All are provisions of the Norris-Todd bill that became law last month.

Hopson repeated essentially what he had written in a “frequently asked questions” brochure that some board members have been using at town hall meetings.

“That answer has 38 words and they are multi-syllabic,” said board member Sara Lewis. “You may not know your people. But I know mine,” she warned other board members.

Hopson included the second track to consolidation being pursued by the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Commission as a “footnote” that could change that.

Council members and commissioners pursuing that track contend the MCS board doesn’t exist.

Hopson told MCS board members they remain in business “until a court says otherwise.”

Consolidation opponents Kenneth Whalum and Jeff Warren ran with Cash’s question as a way to express their continuing opposition.

“We surrendered our charter into a vaccum that has no state law,” Warren said.

Whalum said a yes vote will trigger “years and years and years of lawsuits.”

“A no vote forces us to deal with the real racial issue in Memphis,” Whalum said. “It has nothing to do with city and county. … The real issue in Memphis is the number of non black students who attend private schools inside the city limits. That’s the issue. And a yes vote is not going to address that.”

Meanwhile, Warren withdrew his schools consolidation compromise move from January.

Monday’s meeting was the last MCS board meeting before the March 8 referendum.

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