Tuesday, October 30, 2012

School Board Endorses Sales Tax Hike, National Search for Superintendent

Posted By on Tue, Oct 30, 2012 at 10:28 PM

Kriner Cash
  • Kriner Cash
The Unified Shelby County School Board has trouble voting on matters within its control, but did agree on Tuesday to tell citizens to vote for the referendum calling for a half-cent increase in the sales tax.

The vote was 14 to 6, with one abstention. It came near the end of a five-hour meeting during which the board also voted 15-6 to conduct a national search for a superintendent.

The majority of board members felt that the sales tax increase, while regressive, would raise $62 million, of which $31 million would go to schools.

"This benefits all children regardless of where they live," said Martavius Jones.

The superintendent search vote came after an amendment changing the search from national to local (effectively handing the job to John Aitken, superintendent of the current Shelby County school system) failed.

"I'm sitting here wondering how anyone in their right mind would want to come to work for us 23 board members," said David Reaves. He noted that the board took 90 minutes to approve a resolution on merger strategy and timeline after questioning whether it gave the administration too much power.

The timeline calls for a key meeting on November 15th about Transition Planning Commission recommendations. Additional meetings will be held in November, and members predicted they will last several hours and possibly draw thousands of spectators.

"This is a whole lot of work," said MCS Superintendent Kriner Cash. "There's never been a merger like this in the history of anything."

Cash also said, "We are going to have to get down and dirty with this, and that dirt is coming real soon."

The basic problem is that the board is divided between urban and suburban interests, the suburban representatives don't trust the Shelby County Commission, several board members don't trust the administration, and several more members from both camps don't trust the Transition Planning Commission and the outside interests working behind the scene through foundations, nonprofits, the state Department of Education, and the group Stand For Children.

In a sign of divisions and votes to come, the auditorium was filled with members of AFSCME, the Memphis Education Association, and supporters of the CLUE program in MCS for "gifted" children. They carried signs saying "Keep CLUE," "No Lottery For Optional Schools," and "Stop Rich Folks making $ from public education and creating low-wage workers." Among the TPC recommendations is a lottery for some spaces in optional schools. Slots now go on a first-come, first-served basis. CLUE, heavily supported by parents from Grahamwood Elementary School and a few of their children who also spoke, is often under the gun at budget time. The "rich folks" reference was apparently to operators of charter schools.

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