Friday, July 29, 2011

Is The City Council Anti-Education? Short Answer: No

Posted By on Fri, Jul 29, 2011 at 11:24 AM

Some people think the current Memphis City Council is anti-Memphis City Schools, maybe even the most anti-MCS ever. I disagree. Here are six reasons why.

Disclaimer: There is a human tendency to say someone is “best” “worst” “smart” or “idiotic” depending on whether they agree with you. This is especially true of the City Council. But whether the council is MCS-friendly or MCS-unfriendly is subject to fairly objective measurements.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

MCS Has Been Getting More Funding As Enrollment Has Fallen for 10 Years

Posted By on Tue, Jul 26, 2011 at 9:25 PM

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The Memphis City Council and Memphis taxpayers have been overpaying Memphis City Schools for most of the last ten years.

A spread sheet released by the school system at the school board meeting Tuesday night, when a school shutdown in August was in all probability averted, shows that in years when enrollment declined, the city's payment usually increased. That has come to a stop this year, with the City Council likely to trim the city contribution from $78 million to $68 million under the so-called maintenance of effort requirement.

State law allows cities to reduce their school funding if enrollment falls. MCS enrollment is down 2,508 students, according to state figures released last week.

Enrollment figures are taken from the Tennessee Department of Education Report Cards.

In 2000, MCS enrollment was 116,378 and city funding was $69 million.
In 2001, enrollment was 115,878 and funding was $74.3 million.
In 2002, enrollment was 117,207 and funding was $81.5 million.
In 2003, enrollment was 126,923 (due to annexations) and funding was $79.3 million.
In 2004, enrollment was 115,598 and funding was $85.8 million.
In 2005, enrollment was 117,740 and funding was $85.5 million.
IN 2006, enrollment was 116,528 and funding was $92.2 million.
In 2007, enrollment was 110,753 and funding was $92.6 million.
In 2008, enrollment was 107,314 and funding was $94.2 million.
In 2009, enrollment was 104,829 and funding was $24.9 million.
In 2010, enrollment was 103,593 and funding was $64.3 million.

The funding amounts for 2009 and 2010 are in dispute, but courts have ordered Memphis to pay MCS an additional $57 million.

The school board agreed Tuesday to a proposal that would require Memphis to pay $15 million ($3 million of which has already been paid) by August 5th, and a payment schedule after that. The agreement must still be approved by the city council, which meets August 2nd.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hell Freezes Over, MCS Admits Enrollment Down

Posted By on Thu, Jul 21, 2011 at 8:11 PM

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Memphis City Schools enrollment is down 2,508 students. The number is less significant than the fact that MCS acknowledged it at all.

Depending on how you do the math, and we'll get to that in a minute, the enrollment is 106,000, 103,500, or 101,000. The reason this matters is that funding is based on enrollment. The Memphis City Council knows it. And on Thursday members jumped all over it.

The admission — something reporters, council members, and others have tried in vain to obtain over the Kriner Cash years ("You'll have to file a Freedom of Information request for that") — came during the MCS presentation of its proposed $884 million operating budget to the council's education committee. Cash was attending the wedding of his son and did not make the announcement.

The Tennessee Report Card says the 2010 MCS enrollment was 103,500. The Commercial Appeal, for reasons known only to itself, stated Thursday that the enrollment is 110,000. An MCS official told the council Tuesday the system is "budgeting for 106,000-plus students" this year. And if you subtract 2,508 from 103,500, you get something like 101,000.

That means that instead of owing MCS (assuming a judge rules the city owes MCS something, even though the board surrendered its charter in December) roughly $78.5 million a year, the city owes about $69 million.

Ever generous and reasonable, MCS said the choice is up to the city council.

Gridiron Greats, Scribes, and Ballcoaches

Posted By on Thu, Jul 21, 2011 at 3:46 PM

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Nothing gives the lie to my profession's constant whining about how impoverished and overworked we are than Southeastern Conference Media Days, the annual summer lovefest between football coaches and the hordes of reporters who glorify them.

I like a freebie and a cold beer as much as the next guy, but I have never attended SEC Media Days. I have, however, read about 40 years of dispatches from them and if there was an ounce of useful information in them I can't remember it.

Whenever I read them — and, face it, in July what the hell else is going on in wide world of sports? — I feel like I have been transported back to the days of Chip Hilton, Clair Bee, grizzled mentors, gridiron greats, shifty scatbacks, fabled elevens, beefy behemoths, and reporters with thick glasses, short-sleeved shirts, and press cards stuck in their hats and nicknames like "Scoop."

"How's the team look this year, coach?"

"We got some good 'uns/hosses/studs/fine young men/JC transfers/barely eligible sophomores comin' back but we lost some starters/great athletes/felons too, so we'll have to wait and see who steps up/ sucks it up/gits after it/work their tails off/has foot speed/hits the weights/digs deep, and who wants to get the job done before we line up/tee it up/open the season/kick some D-2 ass/get our asses kicked."

"Gee, thanks coach. And by the way, these goody bags are the best ever. See you at the bar/pool/next press conference/golf course/NCAA hearing/when you get fired."

When I was a wire-service reporter, I was a purveyor of such nuggets myself, via phone calls with the sports information directors in Mississippi. One day the report was, I swear, "The Bulldogs worked out today in their shorts."

I can't wait for September. I mean it. We got us some studs. The Buckeyes are down. Go Blue.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wharton "Optimistic" Schools Will Open on Time

Posted By on Wed, Jul 20, 2011 at 4:28 PM

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Mayor A C Wharton said Wednesday that he believes city schools will open on time despite a school board resolution to delay the opening if the schools don't get more funding for the coming year.

At a press conference at city hall, Wharton tried to slow down a story that went national on Wednesday, giving Memphis more "troubled city" publicity.

“There will be no reason out of (City Hall) for schools not to open on time and for teachers not to report on time.”

He added, “I am optimistic that we will work out terms that are reasonable.”

The mayor put the schools situation in the context of the 4.6 percent pay cuts in this budget year for police and firemen and other city employees in order to "dispel the notion that we had money and went somewhere else with it.” The city, he said, can only pass along the money after it is collected from taxpayer payments. The school board pegged the due bill at $55 million. But Wharton and City Council chairman Myron Lowery, vowing to do a better job telling their story, produced handouts showing that MCS has gotten $171.7 million from the city in operating funds since July, 2008.

Asked if he was surprised by school board action Tuesday night, the mayor paused several seconds before answering, “No. No I was not. Did I like it? No.”

Asked why school board would consider a late start for school when the amount at issue is about 5 percent of its budget and it is standard procedure to give the school system the funds after the city collects them from taxpayers (who have until August 31 to pay their taxes), Wharton said, “That deserves a deeper inquiry.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

City Council and School Board at War

Posted By on Tue, Jul 19, 2011 at 10:21 PM

Kriner Cash
  • Kriner Cash
Make no mistake, the members of the Memphis City Council and Mayor A C Wharton are fighting mad at the Memphis City Schools board of education and Superintendent Kriner Cash.

Any illusions of unity among pro-consolidation members of the council and school board were shattered Tuesday. In the council meeting — with October elections no doubt weighing on members' minds — councilmen and the mayor took turns verbally beating up on the school board over the issue of funding. Then a few hours later, in a school board meeting the same board members who voted in December to surrender the MCS charter voted to delay the start of school until Memphis forks over a $55 million tax payment that represents about five percent of the system's funding.

The upshot of the two meetings is the appearance if not the reality of chaos in Memphis. Taking a cue from suburbanites, Memphis residents are apt to say "a plague on both of your houses" rather than sorting out the complicated and conflicting details.

To summarize, council members and the mayor think the school system's claim that it is owed $151 million is nonsense. Myron Lowery called it "misleading and inaccurate." Shea Flinn said the city owes MCS, at most, about $5 million, with a $160 million counterclaim possibly wiping that out too. Council attorney Allan Wade said the city won't give MCS any payment until the counterclaim is heard but has budgeted more than enough money in case the claim fails.

"We will hear their budget in August so why is their such a panic on their part?" Wade said.

Wanda Halbert said MCS refuses to state its enrollment (which determines funding) and its claim of money owed is "disingenuous."

Wharton said $3 million for MCS from the city is a "just obligation" but the rest is not. The mayor said he told Cash on July 12th that the city had fully funded MCS for fiscal year 2012. Wharton seemed a bit stunned. His relationship with Cash appears to be badly broken.

On and on it went.

Janice Fullilove told Memphians not to be "bamboozled" by school system shenanigans.

"Somebody is lying to you but it is not the city council," she said.

Jim Strickland said the council has met its obligation.

And a few hours later, the school board, after parsing the words "rescind" and "amend" endlessly, gave the council a swift kick in the teeth.

Martavius Jones and Tomeka Hart, who led the charter surrender that Cash staunchly opposed, were suddenly in the superintendent's corner. All of last year's talk about Memphians being double taxed has suddenly been forgotten. Cash and board members Jeff Warren and Kenneth Whalum, who predicted financial chaos six months ago, were at least consistent.

What has happened is that both the council and school board have hunkered down in their legal positions, while U.S. District Judge Samuel H. Mays makes his decision about when and how the city and county systems will be merged. A complicated case founded on idealism and a vision of a single school system has now become hopelessly muddied by money grabbing and politics. The members of the Shelby County school board must be shaking their heads in wonder, or perhaps saying "I told you so." As for the students and parents and employees of MCS, they are left to wonder what to make of the show and when school will start and, perhaps, why they would ever want to go there.

See also Jackson Baker's take on the MCS-city government conflict.

Councilman Hedgepeth Filed Timely Reports

Posted By on Tue, Jul 19, 2011 at 12:06 PM

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The Shelby County Election Commission has revised its handling of political candidate reports after an office lapse led to an inaccurate report about Memphis City Councilman Reid Hedgepeth.

In a blog post last week, I reported that Hedgepeth had not filed his second quarter financial report prior to the July 11th deadline. Hedgepeth sent his report by certified mail on July 7th and it arrived in the office on July 11th at 5:40 p.m., but this was not noted by the election commission on its website until July 18th.

"It's a matter of an internal process that we needed to improve and have improved," said elections administrator Richard Holden on Tuesday. "We apologize both to the Flyer and to Reid."

On July 12th I visited the Election Commission office and filled out a written request to see all of the council members' files. The files for Hedgepeth and Myron Lowery, were missing the second-quarter reports. To allow for possible slow processing, I waited three days and checked again in person and by telephone. The reports were still missing and I notified Hedgepeth and Lowery. In a follow-up call, a clerk said Lowery filed Friday morning but Hedgepeth had not filed.

On Monday, Hedgepeth's campaign treasurer notified me of the error, which I relayed to Holden.

The Flyer and other news organizations rely on government agencies to produce timely and accurate reports. In this case that did not happen. I regret that and apologize to Hedgepeth.

Here is a listing of the council candidates and their financial reports.

Bill Boyd: $1,428.
Joe Brown: $4,163.
Kemp Conrad: $71,260, $38,633 in loans.
Harold Collins: $25,421.
Shea Flinn: $164, $170,000 in loans.
Janice Fullilove: $603, $5,854 in loans and obligations.
Ed Ford Jr.: $11,320, $9,074 in loans.
Wanda Halbert: $0.
Reid Hedgepeth: $54,560, $22,459 in loans.
Myron Lowery: $2,804.
Bill Morrison: $22,257.
Jim Strickland, $90,119, $40,747 in loans.

Friday, July 15, 2011

City Council/Mayor: Haves, Have-nots

Posted By on Fri, Jul 15, 2011 at 11:43 AM

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(Note to readers. An earlier version of this post contained incomplete or inaccurate information from the Shelby County Election Commission stating that Reid Hedgepeth had not filed his second-quarter financial report. At the request of the Flyer, Election Commission administrator Richard Holden is investigating. This post will be updated.)

The 12 members of the Memphis City Council seeking reelection on October 6th list cash balances of zero to $90,119 and loans up to $170,000.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, an odds-on favorite for reelection, has $274,954.

The forms were due July 12th. Council chairman Myron Lowery filed Friday morning, four days late. He said he files two forms, one as council member and another from his previous mayoral campaign, and the online information led him to believe that both were due July 15th. A stickler for detail, Lowery said it was a simple misunderstanding.

A clerk at the Shelby County Election Commission said the state can assess penalties but there is a seven-day grace period. In reality, nobody on the council has ever received so much as a slap on the wrist for failing to file on time or for failing to file complete information, and the mainstream media is oblivious.

But money matters, and voters and, especially, challengers should pay attention. It buys advertising, fundraisers, research, campaign workers, and yard signs. With turnouts generally dismal, a well-funded candidate and a candidate with name recognition has an advantage. A healthy war chest can deter challengers. By the same token, an incumbent with no serious challengers doesn't have to raise much money.

Bottom line: If you don't pay attention then don't bitch.

All council incumbents are running for reelection except for Barbara Swearengen Ware, who resigned. The city election will also include the mayoral race and some judicial races.

This is a squirrely election year in some ways.

The deadline for candidates to file is July 21st. Early voting starts a few weeks before the election, which is going to make it especially hard for challengers because this is a redistricting year, and the district boundaries won't be finalized until the council meets on July 19th. Some potential candidates don't know which district they will wind up in. In the proposed redistricting, downtown, for example, is split but there is some pressure being exerted to put it back together.

That is also the day on which candidates to replace Ware will make their pitches to the council, which will appoint an interim replacement who will serve through December. The appointee will have a leg up in October should he or she decide to seek a full term. The appointee (like every member, for that matter) will be a potential swing vote on a council currently consisting of six white and six blacks.

Here is a list of council incumbents and their reported cash balance and loans, if any.

Bill Boyd: $1,428.
Joe Brown: $4,163.
Kemp Conrad: $71,260, $38,633 in loans.
Harold Collins: $25,421.
Shea Flinn: $164, $170,000 in loans.
Janice Fullilove: $603, $5,854 in loans and obligations.
Ed Ford Jr.: $11,320, $9,074 in loans.
Wanda Halbert: $0.
Reid Hedgepeth: $54,560, $22,459 in loans.
Myron Lowery: $2,804.
Bill Morrison: $22,257.
Jim Strickland, $90,119, $40,747 in loans.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

We Need More Betty Fords

Posted By on Wed, Jul 13, 2011 at 6:38 PM

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  • Ford Museum
Former First Lady Betty Ford is being eulogized this week as a woman who was gracious, steadfast, open about her addiction and breast cancer, and tolerant. In a time of intolerance and unbending certainty, her tolerance is sorely missed.

Mrs. Ford's casket is in the rotunda of the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, my hometown. Her funeral service is Thursday in East Grand Rapids at an Episcopal church about a mile from where I grew up. My family went to a different church, Fountain Street, for the admittedly damned. Its members included President Ford's friend and legal counsel, Philip Buchen, who had some influence over the fateful decision to pardon Richard Nixon. That cost Ford the 1976 election.

The Fords were Michigan icons in the Fifties and Sixties, although that word had not come into wide usage then. Grand Rapids, which like Memphis has had its problems, was fat city back then when the Big Three were cranking out cars and college tuition was $400. My mother, who was a Democrat, used to say that "When it rains in Grand Rapids, every drop falls on a Republican." Despite that, my older sister somehow got a summer internship with then-congressman Ford. Betty Ford was known to my mother's generation as Betty Bloomer, fashion coordinator for a department store and dance teacher at different studios in Grand Rapids. Gerald Ford was an All-American football player at the University of Michigan. The Fords wrote about their Grand Rapids days in a fine book called "Thin Ice: Coming of Age in Grand Rapids."

"Dance was my happiness" she wrote.

Betty Ford went public about drug dependence, divorce and cancer; she supported women's rights, and once said she would not be surprised if her daughter had premarital sex. The daughter forced her to publicly recant, in what must have been an exquisite "Mother, please!" pre-Facebook moment. After that, Mrs. Ford probably kept her deepest thoughts to herself. Whatever, the whole Ford family seemed like real people you would like to have over for a non-alcoholic beer some time, with Gerald Ford, who toasted his own English muffins in the White House, flipping the burgers.

Betty Ford was one of those people you were proud to say was from your hometown. The cocksure certainty of the Tea Party mavens was not in her. I wonder what she thought of them.

Memphis Twist on Grisly New York Murder

Posted By on Wed, Jul 13, 2011 at 5:18 PM

Debbie Aron
A former Memphian is the prime suspect in the grisly murder of an eight-year-old boy in New York City.

Levi Aron, 35, lived in Memphis and Germantown for at least a few years and was married to Debbie Aron, 34, who spoke to reporters Wednesday from her parents' house in Germantown.

Levi Aron was expected to be charged today with the killing and dismemberment of Leiby Kletzky. New York police said the boy encountered Aron Monday on his way home from school and got into his car. His dismembered body was found in Aron's refrigerator.

Debbie Aron said she was married to Levi Aron from March 2006 to March 2007. They met through a Jewish dating website and were married four months later, she said.

"I've been in total shock since my phone has been ringing off the hook at eight o'clock this morning," she said.

"This is completely out of character of the Levi I know," she said, describing him as "shy" and "more of a mother's boy than a father's boy." She said he loved American Idol and karaoke and singing Lionel Richie songs.

She and Levi Aron did not have children but she had two children from another marriage, and she said Levi Aron was kind to them and took them swimming and taught them to skateboard.

"I'm a pretty sharp person," she said. "If I had noticed anything in the beginning there would have been zero."

She said Levi is an Orthodox Jew who went to temple in Memphis but became less religious after he left Memphis. He worked in Memphis for Metro Security and at a Kroger, according to his ex wife. He is the second oldest of six siblings, she said.

In January of 2007 she got a restraining order against him which was dismissed. She said it was prompted by another relationship with an old boyfriend. The Shelby County sheriff's office confirmed that the order was dismissed.

Asked if Levi Aron was a registered sex offender, Debbi Aron said, "Absolutely not. Never that I'm aware of."

Monday, July 11, 2011

Redistricting Memphis in Black and White

Posted By on Mon, Jul 11, 2011 at 1:01 PM

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Memphis City Council districts are being redrawn. This happens every ten years. It is vitally interesting to current council members, pretty interesting to potential challengers and people who keep up with local politics, and a bore to those who have no idea who their council representatives are.

But like soccer and the NBA draft, redistricting has its moment in the media spotlight every now and then, and the process says something about how Memphis is changing and where black and white people are moving to and from. This is where things get interesting.

Memphis has a population of 646,889. There are 13 members of the City Council. Seven of them come from district seats, and six of them come from "super districts" which are combinations of three or more smaller districts. Over time, some districts gain population while others lose. In the proposed redistricting, which the council will take up on July 19th, each regular district has about 92,000 people, plus or minus 5 percent. Each super district has about 323,000 people.

There are 409,818 black people, 190,141 white people, and 42,020 Hispanics, 10,193 Asians, and 26,178 "other" in Memphis. Since 2000, the population of Memphis remained fairly steady but the white population decreased from 34 percent to 29 percent and the black population increased from 61 percent to 63 percent.

The present council has 12 members because the 13th member, Barbara Swearengen Ware, resigned. Six members are black and six are white.

City Council attorney Allan Wade was in charge of redistricting. Wade got raw data from the Office of Planning and Development and input from all seven district council members and most of the super-district members. Is redistricting, then, a rigged game to preserve the status quo?

"Politics was not involved at all," said Wade, although that could change once the proposal is taken up by the council. Wade was guided by the principle of one man, one vote to make districts roughly the same size and by the dictates of the 1995 Voting Rights Decree to reflect racial factors. Four of the seven districts are at least 75 percent black, as is one of the super districts. Hence there are likely to be at least seven black council members, as there would be at present if Ware had not quit.

The district that gained the most population between 2000 and 2010 was District 2, represented by Bill Boyd. It includes most of East Memphis and Cordova and is 52 percent white and 39 percent black in the proposal. The other district that gained population was District 1, represented by Bill Morrison. It includes Raleigh, Frayser, and other areas and is 36 percent white and 54 percent black in the proposal.

The districts that lost the most people were District 6, represented by Ed Ford, and District 4, represented by Wanda Halbert. In the proposed redistricting, District 6 is 89 percent black and District 4 is 78 percent black.

The whitest district is District 5, represented by Jim Strickland. It includes a lot of Midtown and is 67 percent white in the proposal. The blackest district is District 6. It includes a lot of South Memphis.

The super districts — protests and disclaimers notwithstanding — are rigged to elect black or white candidates. Super District 8, represented by Joe Brown, Janice Fullilove, and Myron Lowery, is 85 percent black in the proposal. Super District 9, represented by Reid Hedgepeth, Shea Flinn, and Kemp Conrad, is 48 percent white and 41 percent black in the proposal.

This is not to say that a white candidate cannot win in a majority-black district or vice versa. There is no runoff in Super District races, but there is a runoff in district races between the top two candidates if no candidate gets a majority of the vote. That is how Morrison won his seat in 2007. It is highly unlikely that a white candidate could win in Super District 8, but it is not unlikely that a black candidate could win in Super District 9. Candidates in Super District races must declare which "position" they are seeking, which amounts to choosing their opponent.

The best way to get on the council, should that be your goal, is to run for an open seat. Incumbents are tough to beat unless they get in legal trouble, as we have seen. Nine of the current council members were elected for their first terms in 2007. So far, nobody on the council except for Ware has said they do not plan to seek reelection.

I asked a few present and former council members for some how-to suggestions. This what they said.

District campaigns are different from super-district campaigns. You can go door-to-door in the former, not the latter.

TV advertising is helpful if not mandatory in super districts.

The voting population is not the same as the general population. If you don't "get" that then you probably should not consider running.

Social media can get you some initial buzz and boost your confidence, but it's hard to run on it because the virtual community may not live in Memphis.

Try try again. Many a council member has won second time around.

The filing deadline is July 21st. The election for council and mayor is October 6th, with early voting starting before that.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

No Tweets at the Tea Shop

Posted By on Wed, Jul 6, 2011 at 3:52 PM

Suhair Lauck
  • Suhair Lauck
On Wednesday, President Obama held a news conference and the first question (from himself) came in the form of a tweet.

Also on Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that privately owned Twitter, which was created in 2006, hopes to value itself and its 200 million registered user accounts at $7 billion. Only seven months ago Twitter was valued at $3.7 billion by a venture-capital firm.

For the record, Obama's question to Obama was "In order to reduce the deficit what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep — bo." It came in at just under 140 characters. There followed a stream of less friendly tweets from Republican members of Congress.

On my way to lunch, I picked up a copy of The Memphis News and read a column that began, "It's official. Twitter is not a passing fad."

I tried to digest this over a bowl of spaghetti and some corn sticks at The Little Tea Shop downtown, my favorite retro restaurant. Co-owner Suhair Lauck is surely one of the friendliest people in Memphis. She greets customers by name, and often with a hug if her hands are free for a minute. But she does not tweet and she is not even on Facebook, although there are some links to the restaurant.

She has friends and a wall all right, but they're the old-fashioned kind. The walls of the Tea Shop are decorated with color pictures of her customers, who are also her friends, that she has been given or taken herself.

"I have this," she said, pointing at her cell phone. "Why do I need to do this?" she asked, punching keys on the phone. She joked that "my VCR says 12/12/12" because she doesn't know how to set the display, but the kicker, of course, is that nobody has a VCR any more.

Many of Sue's regular customers are in the autumn and winter of the actuarial calendar. One of them, John Malmo, joined me for lunch. Malmo is cofounder of Archer-Malmo, the advertising agency, and writes books and columns on business advice. In short, he's a communicator. But he doesn't tweet or use Facebook either.

"Why would I?" he asked incredulously. "I mean, really, why would I?"

One crank to another, I suggested it could just be that he doesn't have any friends.

He entertained the possibility for a minute and laughed.

“There is a danger of a breach of privacy," he said. "Maybe one in a million, but who needs it?”

I concur, but I suppose, like Obama, I will break down sooner or later. Mayor A C Wharton tweets a lot and has thousands of Twitter followers and friends on Facebook. My real-life friend Henry Turley, who is even older than I am, has 1,833 Facebook friends. WMC-TV anchor Joe Birch has 4,997.

Marketing necessity. $7 billion. Questions from tweeps. Another day at the office.

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Friday, July 1, 2011

Schools Merger Up to Judge Mays Now

Posted By on Fri, Jul 1, 2011 at 3:03 PM

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No guns, no sex, no stolen cash, no cops. Just a stack of holiday homework for U.S. District Judge Samuel H. Mays that may be the most important federal court case in Memphis in decades.

All of the parties in the schools merger case filed their final briefs on Thursday, setting the stage for Mays to decide when and how the Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools will be consolidated. The question of "if" seems moot since everyone agrees it's going to happen sooner or later.

There are seven players in the game. Their briefs total 180 pages, plus a few hundred pages of supporting exhibits. Not exactly a full-employment act for lawyers, but a pretty good lick. Judge Mays says he will make a ruling with dispatch.

Here is a summary of the final positions. At stake: the future of two school systems with roughly 150,000 students, one (Memphis City Schools) overwhelmingly poor and black, average ACT score 16.6, and one (Shelby County Schools) majority middle-class and affluent and racially mixed, average ACT score 21.

The legalistic blah-blah about special school districts is not mere semantics. The underlying issue is who gets the bill for paying for MCS, which has a 2011 budget of $1,196,364,127. Presently, 6% comes from the city of Memphis, 30% from Shelby County, 38% from the state, 21% from federal government, and 5% from other local sources. The city council wants to get out from under the financial obligation but has booked a 18-cent property tax hike just in case. When the systems are consolidated it is possible that there will be one countywide tax for schools, not a separate tax in Memphis in addition to the county tax.

Continue reading »

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