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VOL. 126 | NO. 176 | Friday, September 9, 2011

Commissioners Hear School Board Applicants

By Bill Dries

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The Shelby County Commission’s 10-hour interview session this week with several dozen applicants for appointment to seven positions on the new countywide school board was, at times, more of an education for them than it was an introduction of them to the commission.

ROLAND

Ten of the 13 commissioners who will make seven appointments to the board gave the applicants for the appointments a good look at most of the still-hot political embers surrounding the coming consolidation.

“We don’t believe in this merger,” said Commissioner Terry Roland, whose district takes in all six of the suburban municipalities where opposition to schools consolidation has been the most vocal. “And if there is any way I can cross it up, I’m going to.”

Commissioner Steve Mulroy grilled applicants who said they did not support collective bargaining rights for teachers.

“I don’t see a need for that,” said firefighter Angelo Lamar of Millington. “I think it protects those who don’t want to do a fair and good job. They tend to hide under that umbrella of the union.”

“So you feel that all union employees are shiftless and lazy?” asked commission Chairman Sidney Chism, who is a retired Teamster.

Lamar said that was not his feeling.

Roland was especially rigorous with applicants who live outside the city of Memphis who indicated they supported schools consolidation or had a willingness to serve on the board that will be deeply involved in the coming consolidation.

He asked several if they were aware that “99 percent” of their neighbors opposed consolidation.

At times, the applicants were bystanders as commissioners argued with each other.

At other times, they eagerly joined the fray.

“What gives you the right to say my district should not have the right to form their own school system when you haven’t lived here that long?” Roland asked applicant Sharif Abdu-Salaam, an orthopedic surgeon at Methodist Hospital who has lived in Memphis a year.

“I think you have the right. I just think it’s a bad idea,” Salaam responded. “When I first moved here, I watched this debate unfold and I was kind of dumbfounded. The fact that you had some archaic system rooted in segregation that should have been taken care of a long time ago – to me that was dumb.”

Rachael Geiser answered the same question from Roland by saying, “I live and own property in the city, so I pay property taxes to the city and the county. I’m tired of paying higher taxes for two school systems.”

Commissioner Mike Carpenter, chairing the committee, tried to rein in the exchanges when they crossed the line from questions to debate. But the contenders who gave as good as they got appeared to pick up some support from commissioners who shared the same view.

“This is why nobody wants to run for office,” Commissioner Chris Thomas said at one contentious point. “There’s nothing wrong with being tough and asking questions. But then you’re rude and combative because you don’t like their answer.”

Thomas was then accused by other commissioners of not being as critical after Roland’s pointed questions.

What the commissioners couldn’t work out, the marathon length of the session did. Past the three-hour mark, the number of questions from commissioners dropped considerably.

The exception to that was state Sen. Jim Kyle, among the applicants for the District 5 seat. Kyle was an opponent of the Norris-Todd bill that slowed down the process of schools consolidation under terms upheld in the later federal court ruling on the issue.

Kyle said it was a local issue the legislature should have stayed out of.

Roland indicated his opposition to Kyle’s appointment and questioned how Kyle would attend board meetings during the legislative session since Kyle said he intends to keep his Senate seat.

“We’ll just have to see how that goes,” Kyle said. “If I should miss something in Nashville because of that, well, the voters in November of next year will have the opportunity to tell me they are not happy with that.”

Kyle also said some of the questions about specific ways to achieve consolidation were issues voters could raise in campaigns.

“I generally find that issues find you,” Kyle said. “You don’t find issues.”

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