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Posted March 1, 2011

Editorial: Vote ‘Yes’ Reluctantly on School Consolidation

What should have happened did not happen. What should have happened should have been a sensible plan laid out in black and white (no pun intended) for the citizens to vote on before the Memphis City Schools System Board of Education so recklessly surrendered its charter. This way the citizens would not have been ‘blindsided’ and could have gone into the voting booths with eyes wide opened. For the record Memphis Mayor A C Wharton stood before school board members and practically begged them ‘not to do this’ without having in place a plan of consolidating both city and county school systems.

Well, boys and girls, men and women, the board did it anyway leaving in its wake a mass of confusion and anger.

Just like many of you, we found ourselves going back and forth sometimes admittedly fence-sitting watching emotionally-charged opponents and proponents going after each other like two evenly matched heavyweight boxers. And the slugging match has not been pretty regardless of both sides having legitimate arguments.

Some of the opponents’ arguments have mainly stemmed from 1) Memphis, a city of over fifty-percent African American, giving up control of its school board and in essence giving up hard-fought-for-power during an era of integration and busing. 2) consolidation possibly being used as a tool for union-busting. 3) consolidation possibly resulting in a massive reduction of African American teachers and other personnel 4) the taking away of highly qualified African American teachers and placing them in predominantly white county schools as ‘tokens’ of integration.  These are just a few of their objections—along with outcries of race and racism.

Proponents argue that Memphis and Shelby County school systems are the ‘Last of the Mohicans” that have not consolidated in the State of Tennessee. Proponents also make the BIG point that Memphis pays two taxes—city and county, a point which results in Memphis supporting two school systems, and  then there is that other reason that Memphis simply does not have the funds now at an estimated $57 million to continue its support of Memphis City schools. Then there are still the charges that the school buildings in the county are better and more of a state-of-the-art caliber. And, of course, the old wheel-tax argument pops up in that proponents are still wondering what the county did with most of that?  Also, what should be strongly noted is that the state-of-the-art school buildings in the county were built with Memphis City School Board money. These are just a few of their objections—along with outcries of race and racism.

Of course, the  war escalated when State Sen. Mark Norris drew up and got passed with the speed of light a bill whereby merging the school systems (if the consolidation referendum passes) won’t happen without a three or four year transition period. The Norris bill along with threats of non-ending court battles will bring about more chaos that will put students at the bottom of the totem pole.

And students should be first. This should neither be interpreted as more busing nor massive layoffs of African American teachers who, lest we forget this Black History Month, historically taught with commitment and third-hand books in ill-equipped classrooms with mandatory time that their students should be let out to work in the cotton fields.

It is the 21st century and it is time for Memphis and Shelby County to make a stronger attempt to override the racially engorged educational line. Yes, to reiterate, this battle has the traditional cries of race and racism. And one has to be naïve to think that it is not also about race and racism. What else is new? In fact, we all may be dead and pushing up cotton seeds before race is a non-issue in Memphis and Shelby County. Be that as it may. The overriding factor should and must be about a quality education that will beget a quality and professional workforce. For too long it has been a sick inside joke that major corporations will not locate or re-locate in Memphis and Shelby County because of the ‘inferior’ school system. Whether the description is deserved or not becomes irrelevant because, unfortunately, ‘perception’ can mask as ‘reality’. And thereupon is the other ‘reality’ that if corporations locate in Memphis and Shelby County, they bring in their own workforce of labor and professionals. And thereupon it is also incumbent on Memphis and Shelby County to encourage the capitalization of its homegrown Black-owned businesses to help alleviate unemployment and provide hope for future workers who are now students in the Memphis and Shelby County school systems.

In today’s world it is about highly-skilled and techno-literate workers who still need to know reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic—the traditional 3 R’s. Bringing the traditional education and the technical education together in itself means consolidation; it means merging the best and brightest to make Memphis and Shelby County schools competitive, and ultimately to make the area economically viable.

In spite of this ‘mess’ of surrendering the school charter, we are pleased to see the African American community dialogue among ourselves. We are going to have to clean up and clean out some items in our own proverbial closet and get back the values of quality education, a point that many of our African American ministerial groups called for as concerned opponents. We must remember during this Black History Month that we always knew that Brown vs. Board of Education was not about little Black Johnny and Jane needing to sit next to little White Johnny and Jane to learn; it was about securing a quality and ‘equal’ education for little Black Johnny and Jane.

Now is the opportunity to make sure that all of Memphis and Shelby County schools are quality schools for all students. Having said that, it is time to give the classroom back to teachers and to bring back discipline and demand accountability from parents (regardless of color) who have used  school teachers to solely baby-sit and rear their children.

Granted it is after the fact, but there is a plan that is now being discussed which could make consolidation of schools workable, but opponents and proponents MUST work together to make it happen via Mayor Wharton’s common sense advice to make a consolidated Memphis and Shelby County school system one of the best in the nation. In a city and county where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life, let us make a commitment to make the Dream a ‘perception’ and a ‘reality’.

At this juncture, we can only say VOTE YES and keep our fingers crossed that the right thing will be done to make it all right.



Note: For updates on the Memphis and Shelby County school issue, please travel on the Education Lane and The Black Papers Lane on the Black Information Highway and The Mid-South Tribune ONLINE  . To submit your opinions or studies for The Black Papers, please email to MST@prodigy.net  or BlackInfoHwy@prodigy.net   or mail to The Mid-South Tribune, P.O. Box 2272, Memphis, TN 38101.