Saturday, January 15, 2011

Schools Partisans Spar at LeMoyne-Owen, Watson Mum

Posted By on Sat, Jan 15, 2011 at 12:08 PM

Johnnie B. Watson
  • Johnnie B. Watson
Johnnie B. Watson is one of my personal barometers for how the schools debate is going.

Watson, president of LeMoyne-Owen College, a 1960 graduate of same, and a former Memphis City Schools superintendent, is as wise and civil as they come. He knows what it is like to close schools in fact, not in theory. He knows the machinations of the Shelby County school board and the state legislature. He knows the wrath of Sara Lewis. And he has worked with every MCS superintendent from E. C. Stimbert to Kriner Cash.

And he is not ready to reveal his position on charter surrender, although he said he will do it if and when it becomes clear that a referendum is certain. For now, he is not sure that will happen, given that the Tennessee General Assembly was meeting Saturday morning even as LeMoyne Owen and the Tri-State Defender hosted a schools forum with speakers Dwight Montgomery, David Pickler, Martavius Jones, and Warner Dickerson.

Watson said his wife commented on how happy he has seemed since the schools merger debate flared up a month ago.

"I'm happy because I'm president of LeMoyne and not superintendent of Memphis City Schools," he said.

Asked after the forum if he has a position, Watson said "I'm biased in favor of Memphis City Schools" but he would not say whether or not he favors charter surrender. However, he said he will take a public position later if there is a referendum.

About 80 people attended the forum. Unfailingly courteous panelists stuck to familiar positions, and the audience was urged not to clap or boo, and for the most part they did not. Pickler emphasized that the Shelby County school board would be in charge if MCS surrenders its charter, and local, state, and federal funding for MCS would decline. Jones said "nothing prevents that board from saying we are one school district now" if a referendum is held and a de facto merger is the result.

Several more debates are scheduled in coming weeks at various locations.

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