It’s always the innocent bystanders who get shot.
That’s especially true in school politics, where the ultimate victims are always the students.
Recently, in the latest salvo from the Shelby County School Board, Memphis City Schools was notified in a letter from county superintendent Bobby Webb that 155 students in an area being annexed by Memphis cannot attend county schools next year in keeping with past practice.
Sometimes, it just doesn’t seem possible for the county school system to exhaust its supply of pettiness and cheap shots. The letter seems to come from the same place as the outbursts by County Schools Chairman David Pickler following Memphis City Schools’ refusal to support legislation before the Tennessee Legislature that would have made the county system into a special school district.
As we pointed out April 14, there were major political obstacles to the city schools’ support for the special district, primarily connected to the question of what benefits, if any, would Memphis City Schools receive from lobbying for the legislation. In the end, there was no benefits and it did nothing to support the special district, igniting an overheated hue and cry from Shelby County Schools which complained that its city counterparts had violated an agreement and a newly minted spirit of comity.
It’s a tendency of the county schools to see their interests as the center of the educational universe and to pander to their constituents, but we’re hard-pressed to imagine how they missed the call so badly on the special school district. Even a political novice could have predicted that unless there was some reciprocity for Memphis City Schools, there was little reason for it to support this change.
It was a telling indicator of how poorly the county district handles issues that require serious negotiation and compromise. Memphis City Schools’ officials contend that they never made a commitment to support the state legislation, and privately complained that they felt that Shelby County Schools had tried to bully them with Memphis Tomorrow’s approval of the special district.
All that’s just background, but apparently, as a show of their displeasure and pique, the county district decided to send a message. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of students living in the Southwind-Windyke annexation area.
There are 155 of them – 81 in elementary school, 44 in middle school and 30 in high school. In the past, Shelby County Schools has allowed for a transition period up to several years for students to move from their present schools to city schools. In addition, students in the 11th and 12th grades – and sometimes the 10th – have been allowed to graduate from the school they attended at the time of annexation.
But no more.
In an effort to show its muscle, the county school system gave Superintendent Carol Johnson one week’s notice that it would not be allowing a transition period for the 155 students in this year’s annexation area. It’s one week’s notice for the superintendent to plan for them. This week, the county district will notify parents of its decision, forcing their children to move next fall from schools in Germantown to schools within the Memphis city limits.
Most incredibly of all, the students being removed from Germantown High School are now in a school whose dominant characteristic is that it is under capacity and will be even more so in the future. In other words, the county system could easily have allowed these students the opportunity to complete high school in the present school they are attending. By the way, the grand total of students who would have been seniors at Germantown High School next year is 10, hardly a problem for a school about 200 students below capacity.
Instead, today, Memphis City Schools is unexpectedly trying to find places for these students in its schools. Some of the obvious options are Ridgeway High which is 147 percent over capacity; Ridgeway Middle School, 111 percent over capacity and Ridgeway Elementary School, 110 percent.
Prepare yourself for the county system’s normal claim that its school are overcrowded, but as usual, its statistics would have made Enron proud. Not only is Germantown High School under capacity, but so are Germantown Elementary (about 40 students) and Germantown Middle Schools (about 250 students).
All in all, even in a political environment known for its adversarial positioning, the county’s position is spiteful to the extreme. And sadly, its willingness to use students as pawns for its political agenda says more about its commitment to education than any amount of speeches that its officials can give.
The area being annexed is, roughly speaking, an oddly shaped area north of FedEx World Headquarters and east of Hacks Cross Road, a sliver of land that runs east along Hacks Cross Road and then eastward along Nonconnah Creek, and an area that is essentially Windyke.
These areas were immediately annexed, but most of Southwind and the area west of Wyndyke will wait to be annexed until 2013 in an agreement entered into by The City of Memphis. Looking at the annexation plan, it’s hard to find the logic in it. Some areas are leapfrogged for no apparent reason except they are largely single family residences and given a seven-year reprieve in city taxes.
Politics is a contact sport, but some things should rise above the normal daily political gamesmanship.
Fair play for these 155 students is surely one of them.