February 1, 2011

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Letters and the words that comprise them can often be subject to the interpretation of the reader, which accounts for the varied reactions some Memphis City Hall officials had when analyzing the content of correspondence sent to the superintendents of the Memphis and Shelby County school systems by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s office on Tuesday.

In it, Haslam asked MCS and SCS to submit to the State Education Commissioner a joint written plan that ensures teachers’ rights won’t be impaired if school consolidation is approved by voters in a March 8th referendum. The deadline for submission of the plan is February 15thm one day before early voting on the referendum is slated to begin.

Reactions to Haslam’s words ranged, in no certain order, from indignation to agreement to indifference.

“You expect both schools to come together and to agree? The Shelby County School Board can’t even agree on what organization should have a charter school,” said Memphis City Councilman Myron Lowery.

“I think it’s a very smart thing,” said Councilman Jim Strickland. “What our Mayors have been saying for a couple of months now is we need to plan for the transition of two schools systems becoming one.”

“Implicit within his statement is that there will be no effort, and I trust that to be the case, to interfere with the right of the folks here in Memphis to make this decision,” said Memphis Mayor A C Wharton.

“I am happy to hear him say in his letter that it is a local issue, which in my mind means that the voters of Memphis will get an opportunity to vote on this,” said Councilman Harold Collins.

“That does not derail the vote of the people or it does not derail the effectiveness of the consolidation. It only defers or delays any impact that it can have on teachers,” said Memphis City Council attorney Alan Wade.

But while Haslam’s words did little to fan any further flames in the consolidation fight, it was probably because all eyes and ears will be focused Wednesday on the words and actions of members of the Tennessee State Senate’s Education and Finance committees in Nashville. That’s where Collierville Senator, Mark Norris, backed by the power of ally Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, plans on seeking a legislative block to the referendum vote. If such a measure passes in both the House and Senate when the General Assembly reconvenes on February 7th, one Memphis City Council member believes he and his colleagues will have no choice but to use their own “nuclear option.”

“This put the City Council in the same position the Memphis City School Board was once in,” said Lowery. “If the state legislature begins to react and starts to change state law, the City Council may be forced to act.”

“The referendum vote has been ordered by a judge and it’s going to go forward until a judge says it’s not going to go forward no matter what we do,” added Wade.


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