So, let’s take Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner at his word.
His obsession with a municipal school district for his town is not “separatism,” he said, although it does seem Freudian that he picked that word. Then again, there’s another “ism” that does fuel the rush to judgment on these school districts.
This week, the mayors got a consultants’ report that said, surprise, they were right all along. But considering that they hired the former Shelby County Schools superintendent, it really isn’t too much of a surprise.
This is one of those cases that has the feeling that the consultants were paid to tell the towns what they wanted to hear. In fact, back in February at a public meeting in Germantown, Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy laid out what the bedroom community needed to do to create its own school district. Her observations were parroted in this week’s report.
What was clear in her comments was that she (and we’re sure the other mayors) were choreographing their actions with Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, an allegedly small government conservative who finds it impossible to stay out of the affairs of local governments.
The other thing that’s telling about Mayor Goldsworthy’s comments about the school district was that she never talked about education. It was all about politics. It was about counting votes on the planning commission to marginalize any influence by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, an objective that received warm applause from the crowd.
That in a nutshell does in fact sum up the back story on the towns’ school districts. It is all about political power, not student performance. It is about isolationism, and the fulfillment of a derivative and vanilla world that shuns “the other” and clings to a community of the “right people.”
We’re not suggesting that these are evil people, but they aren’t exactly noble either. As usual, we are disappointed more in Mayor Goldsworthy and Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald because they are smart enough to know how cynical their actions are.
Over the years, they have extolled the importance of Memphis to their cities and professed to care about its future. Unfortunately, they regularly default to a myopia that sees the world as “them” and “us” and contribute to the divisions in our county.
Mayor Goldsworthy was right about one thing, not that it affected her opinion in the end. Speaking of the transition planning commission, she said: “hopefully a very rational, reasonable group of people figuring out how to do this and hopefully they would be receptive to all sorts of creative ideas about how schools might advance in Shelby County.”
In fact, that is a perfect description of the planning commission thus far. Under the leadership of Barbara Prescott, its members have been thorough in considering alternative structures for the new unified school district. Rather than wait for the outcome, however, the town mayors rush to create a system where they can continue to have as much influence as they had over the old Shelby County Schools system.
It was always a curious feature of the county school system that it genuflected to the town mayors, particularly considering that they never allocated any money to schools within their borders. Meanwhile, county government always got short shrift although it was the major source of local funding.
The potential of losing their fiefdoms seem a motivator for the mayors and their comments dependably demonstrate that they reached a political position on schools before they bothered to search for the research and articulate their justifications.
Recently, Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner said that his town is working to “get education right” although there’s no consultants’ study about academic performance, teacher excellence, classroom size, and other issues affecting school success in the town districts.
Mr. Joyner also said Collierville needs more than just the cookie cutter approach of Memphis City Schools. Of course, the city schools system has never taken a “one size fits all” approach. The truth is that there are variations across the city system, and when innovation, principal leadership training, and better teachers are the criteria, the county system has never measured up. In fact, based on the economic background of most of its students, it actually underperformed.
We predict town district advocates will quit talking about how a 5,000-student system is the optimal size for the best classroom outcomes. It was always a charade anyway, because if the law allowed the towns to bring all of their students into one district of, say, 20,000 students, they would have done it in a nanosecond.
The consultants’ reports this week proposed that school funding come from an increase of 10 percent in their property tax rate (we still suspect the amount of the increase is being low-balled to keep it from being an issue in a referendum) or the funding would come from an increase in the sales tax to the legal limit.
Perhaps, Memphis has finally found a slight marketing hook – shoppers there have a lower sales tax rate and Memphians don’t pay twice for schools like residents of the towns.
Most of all, this week, the towns finally got the rose-colored glasses view of town school districts that they have wanted. They even provided an overly optimistic (they should hope not pollyannish) view about the transfer of the schools inside the towns to the new districts.
Whatever the final decision is, it will likely come from a lengthy court battle, raising the question of whether the town districts can be created before a judge’s ruling, leaving the towns with districts but no school buildings.
Rhetoric Over Reason
Meanwhile, town district supporters continue to promote the mythology that Memphis never had to pay for county schools that it annexed. It’s a position that’s not backed up by the facts, but as the mayors push aggressively for their very own districts, we look for facts to be their first casualty.
Right after reason.
If I lived in one of these municipalities, I’d be upset that my government is expending time, money, and energy on studies that don’t reflect reality – instead of putting full energy into being productive voices in the Unified School District. It’s too bad. I know there are a lot of smart people in the county who could contribute to this effort. The Transition Planning Commission for this new district states one of its guiding principals is: “This is our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Put aside what was and dream big.
Someone has talked his mom into letting him stay in her basement again.
Lurene- I agree. Now is the time to dream big of what could be and lay the course to get us there.
Sometimes these battles have to be fought so that the losers can be exposed and the future forged. It is, of course, a pity that the entire county is so reluctant to cooperate one with another, and the opportunity cost of wasted time and resources is painful, but much is being exposed and coming to light, particularly to what degree many in our region live in the past and long for separatism, which can only usher in enlightenment for those who are paying attention. In my view, such isolationism, hate, misunderstanding, and mistrust aren’t long for this city, although it may define the towns forever and be their legacy…and demise. Long-time rancor over race and socio-economic status are giving way to discussions of social justice and economic development in places where the young, ambitious, and creative want to be (note: not just young). Those who continue to remain ignorant will play less and less of a role in the future. Politically, the towns might win some battles, and Lord knows ignorance reigns supreme in rural Tennessee which aids and abets their poisonous purposes, but the obstacles to progress in the city still remain less to do with suburban rancor and illness and more about opportunity, innovation, hard work, and risk. The suburban misinformed would never have played a role in such efforts anyway.
You mention the “mythology” but don’t clarify the truth. I, too, have heard/seen many people mention this topic but have yet to see anyone explain how the financing of those schools was handled.
Please clarify the finances for the annexed schools.
Whenever Memphis annexed an area, it had to enter into a negotiation with county government over how to compensate the county for it. For example, in a couple of cases, rather than write a check, Memphis City Schools waived the ADA requirements for a specified period of time to repay county government. In recent years, notably in Cordova and Southeast Shelby County, both city and county school districts worked together to design the schools with the county system using them first and with city schools taking over upon annexation. These joint development agreements were a way to build the schools without the ADA requirements and to deal with the compensation issue.
“As Douglas Reeves, noted education writer and scholar recently stated, listen to the skeptics and avoid the cynics when making crucial decisions. While the skeptic demands evidence, the cynic finds no evidence sufficient for change. While the skeptic can be persuaded, however reluctantly, with data and analysis, the cynic’s mind is made up before the argument begins (American School Board Journal, October 2011, p. 40).” This quote is included in the report of SES to Germantown on the feasibility of creating a municipal school system. What irony!
Thanks for the reply, SCM. I with the primary media outlets would clarify this issue since it is brought up often.
It is accurate to say that NONE of the annexed schools were given to MCS then?
No Mark that is not accurate, although the word “given” is inaccurate. We are talking about a century of transfer of schools. Before the 1980s Memphis encompassed much more than 70% of the population of Shelby County, therefore Memphians financed up to 90% of the cost of the schools in unincorporated Shelby County. Memphis NEVER received schools for free. There were always trade-offs and compromises. If you think either Arlington High or Southwind High were needed at their locations you are very naive. It all had to do with developers and politicians.
Finegold – Not just irony but dripping and bleeding with irony. Can’t wait for Lakeland and their 900+ or – students to start their own system. How about police, fire, code inspection and emergency services first. If they really want to call themselves a “town” it is time to put up or shut up.
I see nothing wrong with the smaller burgs getting and paying for their own schools (over the basic county funding). If it drives their taxes up, then so be it!
I’d like to see the schools run as a more of a confederation of small districts for things like teacher retirements than one hugh monolithic one. I supported the MCS charter surrender because MCS was too big. I think SCS will be too big as well. Let Frayser have its own board (non-paid), as well as Midtown, Orange Mound, Whitehaven, asf. Get the decision making on curriculum and such closer to the folk.
“I don’t know as I want a Lawyer to tell me what I cannot do. I hire him to tell me how to do what I want to do.” – J.P. Morgan
These are not objective studies, they are pretexts for action and invitations for future legal and consultant fees. The CA’s failure to accurately report this is unsurprising, but disappointing nonetheless.
Re: Anon 9:59 – I believe there are already rumblings, in some circles, of de-annexation. I literally have no idea what kind of traction this idea might really have, despite obvious concerns of the unsustainable financial burdens communities like Barlett and Frayser exert on city finances, but it might present an opportunity for the City to calculate the income and expenses balance sheet of each “town” and begin to re-think city finances entirely. Let’s assume, simplistically, that certain communities in Memphis are financially profitable (Midtown, Downtown, E Memphis) and others are not (Bartlett, Cordova, Frayser, Raleigh, Winchester), creating a situation in which certain communities are net providers and some are net takers. With independent school districts being the catalyst, perhaps city of Memphis tax rates and other revenues and expenses can be calculated and allocated on a town-specific basis, in an attempt to mitigate the extent to which net-taking “towns” are a loss. The city could simulate the contracting out of services to each town at a rate that makes sense financially. So, if Barlett wants its own school district, that’s fine, but for the necessary, ongoing City of Memphis services that would go into that, they must pay for it themselves. By extension, the city could say, “Okay, Bartlett, if you want to maintain all of your roads, which we believe are no longer financially feasible (because we have a balance sheet that shows this), we need to increase YOUR taxes for YOUR roads.” In this way, de-annexation might not be accomplished, but the similar straightening out of the balance sheet would. With new independent school districts potentially on their way in, give the towns like Barlett, Collierville, Cordova, and Millington enough rope to come to the conclusion themselves that independence, in some respects, is their own idea, and eventually they should assume responsibility not just their own schools, but as you said, the whole of their affairs, their own city services, to include long-term infrastructure maintenance obligations.
One might wonder if this is a losing proposition for the city. I think not. I think the most unsustainable communities are on the periphery, with the exception perhaps of Germantown. Downtown, Midtown, and E Memphis, I suspect, are the financially healthiest communities in the region. Overall, their long-term health is set to improve dramatically, and with smart land use, development, and transportation policy, the long-term health of communities like Greenlaw/Uptown, South Memphis, EDGE/Medical District, Binghampton, and others are set to improve gradually as well, even without a substantial increase in population or median income, simply because they are located in proximity to the core.
De-annexation is a very interesting and increasingly mentioned ”solution” to what ails cash strapped cities. Precedent has already been set in Tennessee in recent years. Chattanooga successfully de-annexed an area of Lookout Valley several years ago and an effort to de-annex an Elder Mountain neighborhood is set as a referendum item for this year. Interestingly enough, the residents of Elder Mountain have pressed the referendum as a means to defeat the city’s attempt at de-annexation in the hopes of preserving their services. The reasoning behind the city’s for de-annexation is simple and is the same as the position you presented: the taxes collected within the subject area are not sufficient to support services provided.