Monday, December 20, 2010

This is it! The time is now!

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.

Bigger than the school board!

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.


Sendler said...

Did Chattanooga give up their charter under the same circumstances? Were they bullied by a little dog? When something is done by force rather than logic and good sense, it becomes a much more difficult process.While I agree with most of your writing, I still ponder this question and how this would affect the transitory period. Ill feelings between the city and county run deep and will remain harbored for some time to come, emotions are high, to think that we could create a team for the transistion without sparks and fire from those who've walked away from compromise would be misguided and altruistic. I hope I'm wrong, but given the politicking and posturing I've witnessed and been a party to in the past few days, I don't think so. Godspeed on this vote tonight.

Tomeka Hart said...

Sendler -- I didn't say the transition period would necessarily be easy. I meant that the adults control what it would and could be like, and given that, it can be whatever we choose.

To say it would be chaotic automatically--just because-- is to not place the accountability on the adults who can control the atmosphere.

I live in the real world at all times, so I completely understand what you mean-- in fact, I overstand it!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for being a positive leader for our City.

sendler said...

Well done last night. But as I said earlier, the sparks are flying fast and hot now. The machinations of these legislators was planned to be a "go" should the vote be yes, and as we are witnessing, the papers are being filed left and right in Nashville. As I sadly watch the unveiling of these men, I wonder if David Pickler is sleeping at night.The course of action he chose was wrong, he knows this, and many county residents do not agree with him. Both the Ad Hoc attempt and the recent Sunday agreement to consider a time out failed as well, perhaps Sunday would have worked if the time frame had been shorter for a decisive course of action. Your frustration at the loggerhead position of the county officials in considering single source funding is well understood by me, and I think that these meetings need to be publicized once again to inform Jo Public that this resolution was not born from amoke, but from a very real event that created the need for it. Public memory span is that of a gnat. Something to consider here: Given that Memphis City residents will be paying one million dollars for a special election with potentially 20% turn out to vote yea or nay on this, how do you think the Supt. can function in his ongoing position while determining a consolidation plan? Do you plan to appoint an executive committee to begin organizing a consolidation plan and let him continue business as usual? Teachers! What should they believe? Are jobs at risk? What is the next step? Certainly waiting for the election would be unwise, as citizens need to be educated on what consolidation means to and for us. And accountability. Hmmm. I am determined not to read the CA for at least another hour, and hope someone contaced Ch 5 WMC to advise them they story they ran wass incorrecct. Accountability.I love the word, but there are many who don't understand thr meaning of it. Once again, Godspeed to you.

Evelyn said...

Ms. Hart

I have been impressed with your service and obvious commitment to our schools and our community. We need more people like you to step up and commit.

However, I don't think it was right to slur Dr. Warren who also has demonstrated his commitment to our community and schools.

Why is it that 2 people who have different ideas can't work together for the betterment of our community? Why does someone always have to attack to other one or say negative things.

It sounded petty and was simply uncalled for.

Together, we can all make Memphis a better place.

Tomeka Hart said...


Thanks for your post. I did not slur Commissioner Warren, I just expressed why I didn't think he would be best to lead us at this time. I'm not sure if your comments are a result of reading the paper or from your firsthand account of the meeting. If from the latter, you'd know that I actually nominated Commissioner Robinson as President, as I thought she would be the best person to lead us now.

When she withdrew her nomination, and after Commissioner Warren expressed why he should be supported, I stated why I would not support him.

Commissioner Warren and I are friends, we just simply disagree on this matter. I agree with you wholeheartedly, people should be able to work together. That doesn't mean we will always agree though. I will continue to work with all Commissioners--agree with them or not--as I've always done.

As I stated in the meeting, I strongly feel we need a president who enthusiastically supports the merger and will do all he/she can to push for the work to begin and to make sure we establish a unified system that is in the best interests of all children. Commissioner Warren continued to fight against the merger after the vote. That is his right. He can feel however he chooses, but that also means I can too.

Again, Commissioner Warren is my friend. I respect his opinion and will continue to work with him.

Thanks again for your post. I hope you have a great day!