TN Lt. Governor: State May Need To Take Over MCS

On January 27, 2011, in News 2011, by Mark Norris

By George Brown and Natasha Chen,
January 27, 2011

The lieutenant governor said that he wants to block or delay the referendum on the school charter.
He also said it may be time for the state to take over Memphis City Schools.
Gov. Haslam, Sen. Mark Norris and others are not as quick to agree on a state takeover.

(Nashville, TN 1/27/2011) Tennessee Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey said he thinks it could be time for the state to take over the operation of Memphis City Schools.

During a live interview with April Thompson and Alex Coleman, Ramsey said that he has spoken to Governor Bill Haslam about possibly having the state take over the Memphis City School System due to the poor track record of the system.

Ramsey said, “I have spoken to the Governor about this but he hasn’t given me much of an opinion. We actually have the right as a state to take over a school system and run it outside of the school board.”

Ramsey is currently asking for a delay in the March 8 referendum asking Memphis voters whether the district should surrender its charter and be absorbed by Shelby County Schools.

The Lieutenant Governor also stated that while mergers have occurred in other school districts across the state, traditionally a smaller district has merged into the larger, not the reverse.

“You can’t do that without a little planning of exactly what happens in a situation like this. And that’s all I’m asking, is to put this vote off. Maybe next school year, fall of next year, be ready to allow this to be absorbed and work forward,” he said.

Governor Bill Haslam told us he didn’t know enough about how a school takeover would work to comment on the matter right now.

“It’s just way too early to comment on any piece of legislation you haven’t seen. But I’ll emphasize this. The state’s role is to make certain that we don’t harm the education process, and if [consolidation] happens there’s an orderly process to it,” Haslam said.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R – Collierville) told News Channel 3 he had not spoken to the lieutenant governor prior to Thursday’s remarks.

“I’m anxious to talk with him. And more importantly, I don’t want others to be upset. I don’t want others to misconstrue his remarks or necessarily to impute those to me, because I haven’t had an opportunity to discuss with him,” Norris said.

Norris is in the midst of proposing his own legislation that would open up the referendum for county citizens outside the city limits to vote on March 8 as well.

The legislation is scheduled to be heard for the first time next week.

Norris said, “I appreciate [Ramsey’s] interest in the subject matter, but I think we approach it slightly differently. We’re trying to facilitate a referendum, whereby people can make a choice, but an educated choice, following a process of planning and information. We’re trying to make it possible for more people to vote, not less, and we’re certainly not trying to block a referendum.”

A state takeover of Memphis City Schools is not currently in Norris’s legislation.

The idea infuriates MCS Commissioner Martavius Jones, who is in favor of consolidating school systems.

“Every Shelby Countian, whether you are for or against this measure, should be outraged that somebody is trying to interrupt our constitutional, our U.S. constitutional right, to vote on something that’s currently on the Tennessee laws right now,” Jones said.

He said that he takes particular umbrage at Ramsey’s suggestions, given that the lieutenant governor hails from Blountville, TN, nowhere near Memphis.

“Five hundred miles. That might as well be someone in Oklahoma. People in Little Rock might as well have their say. Because Little Rock is closer than Blountville, TN is,” Jones said.

Jones also argued that if the state would want to take over MCS, it might as well take over all Tennessee public schools.

Referring to school report cards, “There’s not one school system in Tennessee that gets over 70. When I was in school, a 70 is a D. Shelby County gets scores in the 50’s. That was an F when I was in school. So the state of Tennessee should take over every school, because every school system in Tennessee is failing.”


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