The municipal school districts ruling by Memphis Federal Court Judge Hardy Mays is far from the final word in a legal, political and cultural dispute that is far bigger than the jurisdiction of any court.
But his decision is an opportunity and a message to the countywide school board: Get on with it.
The schools merger is in serious jeopardy, and there are a number of reasons why.
One is the very size of the 23-member school board. And a number of the people we have elected to the countywide school board and other political bodies are confirming one reason those in the suburbs have fought being part of a consolidated school system.
Some of the same political leaders who were for the merger now won’t follow through or they want to follow through with punitive terms that would declare winners and losers in a merger that should leave court battles on the printed page. Get to the decisions that will let parents know now what they can expect in nine short months when, as things stand now, a true countywide school system of 150,000 students or so will open for classes.
That is the real work of fashioning a consolidated public school system. It should be more than a mash up of the city and county school systems. It should also be more than a reaction to irrational fears that also play a part in sustaining the urban and suburban divide we have as adults.
Meanwhile the merger process has become a prisoner of the bureaucracy of the two school systems and their red tape is strangling it. One way to solve it would be to select a single superintendent now, not mid-February in the protracted process that we learned will include more workshops for board members that include sessions on how to select a superintendent.
The different civic players who control different parts of the process through which the schools merger must pass are behaving as if they cannot possibly know what someone down the assembly line is doing unless they get an engraved invitation and explanation.
The transition planning commission held numerous open meetings and posted thousands of pages of recommendations and thoughts about a merger plan on its website. To stand on ceremony and ancient customs that our political leaders still insist on rigidly adhering to is a cop out by those who don’t want to make the tough decisions.
When we use the word community – and we use it a lot – are we talking about our county, our city or our part of the county? It’s a legitimate question because too often we don’t mean the same thing when we invoke “community” in our vital civic conversations with each other.
Some of those who now control the merger process are counting on that staying the same.
It’s time to take back the process while there is still time.