Tonight, the Memphis City Schools Board will make the most important decision it has ever made—whether to allow the city of Memphis to make a decision about the future of its school system! Understandably, there are fears—fears of the known and fears of the unknown. Some are driven by the fears of the unknown—some are driven by the fears of the known. We cannot let our short-term fear drive the decisions that will have long-term and long lasting effects on the children in this community. They need us to be bold and courageous on their behalves.
Here’s what we know:
Under all scenarios of Shelby County Schools becoming a special schools district (SSD) the children of Memphis will be negatively impacted. At best, the children of Memphis will be held to a constant—to the status quo; while the children outside of Memphis will experience constant growth. The argument that they can create a situation wherein the children of Memphis won’t LOSE funding, does not overcome the fact that they will be creating a situation where the children outside of Memphis will see growth and Memphis’s children will suffer the status quo – why is anybody OK with that?
The other scenarios result in the children inside the city limits losing funding, and the people having to suffer tax increases, while the children outside of the city limits will gain funding– again I ask, why is anybody OK with that?
An argument has been made that the county won’t be prohibited from continuing its funding to MCS at its current levels. What was not said is that the county won’t be required to continue doing so. In the vast majority of the communities in Tennessee that already have special school districts, the county did not continue to fund the other systems at their current level, so it is more probable that our community will follow suit.
To be sure, the City Council’s action in cutting funding when it thought it had a choice is demonstrative and I’m not sure why we think we’d get a different result from the County Commission if it does not HAVE to fund MCS as has been shown to be the case in other communities.
Along those same arguments, while it is not known whether the MCS would automatically lose the funding it receives from the city, it is known that like the county, the city won’t be prohibited from continuing its funding. It is disingenuous to argue on the one hand MCS would definitely lose city funding, but on the other it might not lose county funding.
What we do know, if we were one system, the entire county would be responsible for funding every child and those children would be funded equitably. There is no way around that!
Talk is cheap—time to act!
We know that we’ve met and discussed and met and discussed this issue over the years. While many propose we need to meet yet again, I don’t hear much acknowledgment of the fact that we did just that in 2005 and 2008-2009 (and at times before).
In 2005 the systems had a three year agreement, part of which called for the MCS support of SCS forming a SSD—but it specifically stated that SCS would not seek SSD status if it is found that doing so would negatively impact MCS – MCS didn’t back away from that agreement, SCS did.
For about 9 months last year, we formed an ad hoc committee consisting of SCS, MCS, state legislators, county commissioners, city councilmen and business leaders. We worked hard and developed a plan for single source funding. SCS did not get everything it wanted, and walked away from the table. Everybody saw that happen. Why are we pretending we can get a different result now?
SCS has made it clear what they want--SSD and frozen boundaries. They have shown no desire to back away. In fact, what they've clearly said with their recent resolution, is we're going for it (in 3 years), we just want to slow down MCS in the time being!
We are at an impasse and have been for a while. When you are at impasse, you stop talking and you do what you have to do--especially when it's your last chance to protect your interests (in this case the interests of the children in this community).
Look to other communities!
We also know that this community is the only large community in this state that continues to operate two systems. Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga figured out how to transition and provide their children with an education during that transition—why do we act like we cannot do the same? The law allows for a transition and just as we have reached agreements during the transition of schools from SCS to MCS as a result of annexation, we can reach similar agreements during this transition. It is up to the adults to take care of the children during the transition!
When Chattanooga City surrendered its charter to Hamilton County, the county did the right thing, and called for an orderly transition and they got the state involved in the work. There’s no reason we cannot do the same thing here. The fear that things will be chaotic and the children won’t receive an education during the transition does not have to be the reality. In fact, I submit that if all the adults in this community who are now speaking out on this matter would stand together and call for a transition as provided by Tennessee law, there is no way that call won’t be heeded.
In fact, that transition plan can be developed now, before the March referendum! Nothing stops us from coming together on this plan. If we can come together to remain separate, why can’t we do the same to bring us together?!
What about equity—it’s a Civil Rights issue
Again, SCS has made it clear what its end goal is—to form a SSD and freeze the boundaries. We know that any agreement allowing that to happen will result in permanent separate and unequal systems in this community. I’m saddened that some people who claim to have marched with King; who claim the Civil Rights struggle as their own, would now stand and ask us to fight for separate and thus inherently unequal.
I have yet to hear how that is in the best interests of our children.
A New Day
Much has been said about us surrendering children; giving up on children; throwing our children away. This is a baseless argument! If the city of Memphis decides it’s time to surrender its charter, the county commission would have to redistrict the system. Those new districts would likely mirror the current 7 single districts of the county commission, with 4 of those seats being held by Memphians. That would reflect the true make up of this county and finally put us all in the same boat!
That new county board would likely be elected in 2012—not 2014 as has been suggested. During that time the transition team that this community calls for, will be hard at work, creating a brand new system with a clear education plan for ALL children. That new system should include the bests of both systems, the trashing of what hasn't worked in either, and the best innovative, out-of-the box thinking and design we can come up with for our babies!
I also note, that the law specifically protects teachers--so they don't have to fear for their jobs either.
This is our time! We cannot wait!
We won’t get another opportunity like this—we can now decide that it’s time for us to rethink, re-imagine, rewrite, and completely overhaul how we deliver education in this entire community for every child! We can squander this opportunity now, and ultimately allow permanently separate and unequal systems to be created in this community. Or, we can do like the people of New Orleans did in the face of Katrina—we can seize this opportunity to do something wonderful for every child in every corner of this community.
Finally, this decision is not about the 9 member board or any other elected leader who has voiced his/her opinion one way or the other! It’s about our children—it’s about the long-term decisions and impact of those decisions on every child—including ones who are not even born yet!
The board’s vote today is not a vote to surrender the MCS charter. The vote today is a vote to put the power where it belongs—with the people of this community! This is the people’s school system, and they should be empowered to make this decision.