The issues: special school district status for Shelby County schools and, the counterstrike (or preemptive strike), taking a vote at the Memphis City Schools board meeting next week to clear the way to dissolve the city school system charter, subject to a referendum.
Speakers on both sides used the "nuclear" rhetoric, and by the end of the two-and-one half hour meeting, they were speaking directly to the audience in passionate tones.
On the keep-talking side were Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Memphis school board president Freda Williams, Shelby County board president David Pickler, Shelby County Superintendent John Aitken, Memphis school board member Dr. Jeff Warren, City Councilman Jim Strickland, and state Rep. Brian Kelsey.
"I'm not here today to speak for or against," said Wharton.
"Give us some time," said Luttrell.
The general sentiment of this group was "trust the mayors" and representatives from the city and county school systems to work it out during a one-year ceasefire.
Inclined toward action were Rep. G. A. Hardaway, Memphis school board members Tomeka Hart and Martavius Jones, Shelby County commissioners Steve Mulroy and Sidney Chism, and City Councilmen Wanda Halbert and Harold Collins.
The general sentiment of this group was "don't trust the Republican-controlled state legislature" which can turn on a dime and pass a local and private bill creating a special Shelby school district in the 2011 session. Memphis, this side said, has a "window of opportunity" to gain the upper hand in this debate or else face the prospect of being double-crossed later. The specifics, it was admitted, will have to be worked out later, but that might never happen if voters don't approve. In other words, arm the weapon and fire it, knowing that it can be called back by city voters.
"I just can't trust right now," said Hardaway after several speakers pleaded for more talks. He said only the efforts of a single Memphis lawmaker kept a special district bill from coming to a vote in previous years.
Jones said the city school board was forced into taking action by the county board's longstanding interest in special district status and a political shift to a Republican-controlled legislature. Unless Memphis acts, it will be negotiating from a position of weakness on this issue, he said.
Mulroy agreed. "I do think there is a window here," he said.
The city school board was meeting Monday evening to talk more about this. The vote is scheduled for December 20th.