In a frank and amiable exchange on the WKNO-TV program Behind the Headlines, the superintendents of Shelby County’s two still functioning school systems — John Aitken of Shelby County Schools and Kriner Cash of Memphis City Schools — looked into the crystal ball Friday and provided estimates, a year away from merger, on the future of local education.
Both superintendents attempted to stress the positive — Aitken referring to the year ahead as a “celebration” of what comes next and Cash speaking of “a great sense of hope and optimism.” But neither Aitken nor Cash (who acknowledged being “sad” about the imminent passing of MCS, "the Grand Old Lady") was bashful about pinpointing unresolved issues and pending problems.
Aitken and Cash each emphasized the imperative need for the Unified School Board to act without further delay on the recommendations of the Transition Planning Commission, but each also noted holes in the plan resulting from last week’s election results and the near certainty of there being six new independent municipal school systems in the county’s suburbs a year from now.
Calculating the enrollment of what will remain of the Unified system will entail “monumental work for our staff,” said Aitken, requiring the preparation of “a Plan A, a Plane B, and a Plan C” to deal with “re-zoning” and compensate for “gaps in the plan.” And Cash suggested that the ultimate Unified System will be city-oriented and significantly different from the one, “heavily weighted toward the municipalities,” that the TPC envisioned.
Asked about their respective interests in becoming superintendent of the Unified System, Cash sounded an ambivalent note. The issue was “not clear-cut” with him, he said, because of the different kind of system the new one would be. “I was in love with Memphis City Schools,” he said. Aitken was forthright. “I’ve always said I’ve had an interest in the job,” adding, “I understand the politics of everything involved.”
The Unified School Board last month voted not to renew the existing contract of Cash, which expires at roughly the time of the planned merger, in August 2013, while the board rejected similar action with regard to Aitken’s contract, which was extended by his former SCS board to 2015. Both men, however, remain eligible for the superintendency of the Unified System as the Unified Board prepares to implement an organized search.
Cash pointed out that the creation of “municipals” would necessitate the hiring, not just of one superintendent, but of as many as seven.
Asked about the TPC’s recommended closing of some 21 unspecified city schools, Cash said school closings had already been contemplated under MCS auspices, and he said he preferred the term “right-sizing” to describe the process. Most of the closures would occur in the “southwest” portion of Memphis, site of a declining and aging population, he said.
Both superintendents talked about the ease with which they and their staffs had cooperated in making preliminary arrangements for the forthcoming sea change. Aitken referred to the fact of “good folks and good staffs working together,” and Cash made a special point of praising the long-term “stability of the principals” in the SCS system.
The two superintendents were interrogated by BTH host Eric Barnes and reporters Bill Dries of the Daily News and Jane Roberts of The Commercial Appeal.
The program is scheduled for broadcast on WKNO,Channel 10, at 6:30 Friday evening, and will be repeated at 8:30 Sunday morning.
This newspaper has carried several articles and editorials on the subject of Tennessee’s year-old Photo-ID law, passed by the General Assembly in 2011 and, as of now, binding on all elections in the state this year and henceforward.
None of what we have heretofore published is as eloquent as what follows.
The email reprinted below was unexpected and unsolicited and was received by associate editor Bianca Phillips on Thursday. The sender, Chester Thayer of Bartlett, is a Marine veteran of Vietnam, a retired carpenter who describes himself as “unpolitical.” What Mr. Thayer has to say speaks for itself — and for the meaning and consequences of the state’s Photo-ID law — so profoundly that it requires no further explanation:
WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW, my mom, Jesse Faye Thayer, is 91 years old; a resident of Shelby County for 65 years. Her home of 21 years is in Bartlett. She has paid her taxes and voted for the last seven decades-without fail.
Suddenly, at the stroke of a pen, she is no longer able to legally participate in the democratic process without a photo ID. She has been in ill health for many years, with a heart condition and crippling arthritis, but none the less, she would not be denied her "right to vote."
She has a friend, 80 years old, suffering from cancer, and undergoing chemo-therapy, who volunteered to take her to the Highway Patrol Station on Summer Ave. She didn't let me know what she was attempting to do; otherwise, I would have taken her myself. After a long hour and a half wait, she finally got her photo ID.
For a younger, healthier person, this is a mere aggravation; an inconvenient, frustrating wait; time away from their family and their job. For my mother, it was a life threatening experience. She was near collapse by the time she returned to her home. It was several days before she could fully recuperate from this ordeal.
When she was able, she called me and told me what she had done. She was very proud of herself for this accomplishment as she is of a very independent nature-to understate.
I would like to ask the legislators of the great state of Tennessee: is this fair to impose such a law on the elderly? I do not believe so. In my opinion, to treat the elderly, the disabled, the poor, and the disadvantaged, in such a manner, is a disgrace for those elected to office to represent us.I also believe that the Photo ID law will be remembered as a dark chapter in the history of the state of Tennessee.
You have my permission to make public this letter of concern. Here's a few photos of my Mom a few days after she recovered from the photo ID ordeal.
By the way; her birthday is January 29th, 1921. At the time, Warren G. Harding was the President of the United States. According to the information I found, he was a Republican, an advocate of civil rights, and was sensitive to the plights of minorities, women, and labor. You have my permission to make public this letter of concern.
Chester Thayer, Bartlett, Tenn.
On the heels of a summit meeting in Memphis Tuesday on issues of post-secondary education, Governor Bill Haslam pronounced himself impressed with the breadth of recommendations for what the state could do to coordinate academic policies with economic progress.
“There are a lot of challenges in higher education, and from the state standpoint that’s what you’re going to see a focus on,” the governor said, after the meeting on the campus of UT Health Sciences. The bottom line concern, as Haslam put it, was that of “investing dollars in the place that the marketplace needs,” and he got advice on that from a wide range of local business and educational leaders.
“I’ve heard everything from we need more liberal arts to we need more welders.” There was a good deal of emphasis on improving IT education, and Haslam said, “We could fill another 50,000 jobs in Tennessee with the right kind of training.”
On political matters, the governor said it was premature to draw conclusions from last week’s election, which, on the state level, resulted in the defeat of several established Republican and Democratic office-holders and in the triumph in key GOP primary races of Tea Party candidates.
“It’s a little early to say here’s what we learned from that election or here’s the trend. A lot of those state rep races turned on local issues, like taxes, or school boards, or something like that. We can’t quite say there’s a tea party shift, or here’s what the General Assembly will look like. And there’s still the general election to come.”
Haslam seemed to indicate that one explanation for the election results was the simple logistics of legislative apportionment. “Our districts are becoming more and more Republican districts or Democratic districts. To take a seat means you need to take it in the primary. Democrats run to the left of their incumbents, and Republicans run to the right of theirs. It’s that way in Congress as well.”
Haslam acknowledged that the National Rifle Association had been a major factor in the election, particularly in the defeat of the GOP’s House caucus chair, Debra Maggart of Hendersonville, by Tea Party challenger Courtney Rogers. “Anybody’d be naïve to say that investing $100,000 in a race doesn’t make a difference.”
The governor said the outcome of that race had generated a variety of responses from surviving members of the legislature toward NRA-supported objectives — like the controversial “parking-lot” bill allowing weapons in parked cars on business lots. Maggart had been a prominent opponent of that legislation, which was also opposed by business interests. The bill was tabled in the 2012 session but is sure to return in the next session.
“I’ve heard from elected representatives and senators across the spectrum, from ‘that just makes me mad’ to okay, we need to work something out tomorrow.’….Does that guarantee it’ll be talked about next year? Yes.”
Addressing speculation that election losses of some of her key allies might endanger the reelection of Nashville representative Beth Harwell as House Speaker, Haslam put himself squarely in Harwell’s corner.
“Beth has been an incredibly good speaker for Tennessee, and a good partner for me. In that order.” He said that, as Speaker, Harwell had been instrumental in achieving “pretty strong conservative accomplishments” in budget and tax reduction, in tort reform, and in reforms of educational tenure, court laws, and civil service.
On this week’s statement from State Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin), a conservative considered by many a possible contender for the Speakership, that he would not seek the position, Haslam said, “Glen has been a good partner for Beth, and, frankly, I’d have been surprised if he did run.”
Among the attendees at the governor’s post-secondary summit were:
Christine Richards, Executive vice president of FedEx
Ray Pohlman, vice president of governmental relations for Autozone
Tommy Carls, vice president for development at Medtronics
Mary Anna Quinn, senior vice president for human resources at St. Jude
Larry Gibson, Plant Manager at Unilever
Dr. Steve Schwab, Chancellor of UT Health Sciences Center
Dr. Shirley Raines, president of the University of Memphis
Dr. Nate Essex, president of Southwest State Community College
Roland Raynor, director of Memphis Technology Center
William Ray, director of Covington Technology Center
Billy Orgel, chair of the Unified School Board
John Aitken, superintendent of Shelby County Schools
Cohen's shocking 9-1 defeat of Hart, who a year ago, as Urban League head and a force on the School Board, was considered a worthy challenger, will likely discourage the future ambitions of would-be Democratic opponents.
But, while Cohen's results on August 2 out-did those of even such a formidable predecessor as former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Sr., the congressman had both hits and misses with the endorsees on his Ford-style ballot.
Interim General Sessions Clerk Ed Stanton and Assessor Cheyenne Johnson withstood challenges from their Republican opponents (Rick Rout and Tim Walton, respectively), putting to rest any notion of another GOP countywide sweep like that of 2010. But Kevin Woods defeated Cohen choice Kenneth Whalum Jr. in the District 4 Unified School Board race, while Chris Caldwell won out in a three-way race in District 1 over the Rev. Noel Hutchinson and the congressman's endorsee, Freda Williams.
Longtime Cohen ally Beverly Marrero was beaten by state Senate colleage Jim Kyle in the Democratic primary for District 30, and G.A. Hardaway ousted Mike Kernell in a battle of incumbents in House District 93.
Other School Board winners were: Teresa Jones over Tyree Daniels in Disrict 2; David Reaves over Raphael McInnis in District 3; David Pickler over Kim Wirth in District 5; Reginald Porter over Jonathan Lewis in District 6; and Board chairman Billy Orgel, who was unopposed, in District 7.
Among Democrats, John DeBerry easily beat Jeanne Richardson in another elimination contest of incumbents in House District 90, incumbent Joe Towns turned back Hendrell Remus in District 84, and Johnnie Turner beat Eddie Jones in District 85. Republican incumbents Steve McManus and Ron Lollar won out over challengers Jim Harrell and Tom Stephens in House Districts 96 ad 99, respectively, and state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris romped over Woody Degan in the GOP primary for District 32.
Residents of Shelby County's six suburban municipalities -- Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Lakeland, Arlington and Milltingon -- overwhelmingly voted to establish independent school districts in referenda, but their approval of sales tax hikes to finance them succeeded by lesser margins, and, in one case, that of Millington, narrowly failed.
Importantly, the expected suburban Republican turnout generated by the referenda did not transfer over to candidates Rout and Walton.
Flinn easily overpowered GOP opponents Charlotte Bergman and Rollin Wilson Stooksberry.
Democratic loser Steve Ross may still have enhanced his long-term political prospects by the prominence gained from his exposure, along with fellow investigator Joe Weinberg, of systematic glitches in the early-voting process, glitches which may also have turned up in the August 2 voting.
More election details to come.
Meeting with members of the media at the Commission’s Nixon Drive headquarters on Wednesday, Meyers, an attorney, offered no false reassurances and took his lumps. “I don’t believe we have completely eliminated the issues. There is some possibility that there will be errors tomorrow [election day], “ he said.
Meyers also acknowledged that the well-publicized glitches during early voting, which resulted in almost 2,700 known cases of voters being given ballots containing district races, had the probable result that many voters “held back” from early voting and might do so again on election day. He estimated that perhaps 10 percent of the eligible county electorate (62,601 of 583,443) had voted early and that maybe “another 10 or 15 percent” might do so on Thursday.
And he warned that another 3,000 or so potential election-day voters might still be “affected” — meaning that, after the SCEC checked its figures with state voter records, that was the likely number of potential voters whose ballots would be “not correctly associated with [their] precinct.”
Meyers, the latest local Republican chairman of the SCEC since the GOP became the state's official majority party, said these potential problems remained “in spite of tremendous effort on our part and on the part of the state.” The situation was “embarrassing to everybody involved,” he admitted.
(The Commission’s local efforts are now under direct scrutiny by both state Election Coordinator Mark Goins, who had earlier confirmed the glitches tabulated by local investigators Steve Ross and Joe Weinberg, and the office of Secretary of State Tre Hargett, which is conducting an investigation.)
To help deal with expected voting problems on election day, Meyers said the Commission had decided to “slow the process down a little bit.” Elaborating, he said that would take the form of “an extra step” in the voting process, whereby the addresses of voters, especially those on the likely-error list, would be checked against the state’s correct district lines before the individuals cast their ballots, either by machine or by provisional ballot.
If necessary, a voter’s card can be corrected with the proper information on site. One result of the slower process would be delays in reporting totals, Meyers said.
He noted that, in the case of the primaries for state House and Senate races, where most of the identified errors are, the Democratic and Republican parties themselves would have to determine what to do about contested results. In the case of problems with Shelby County School Board races, or with the District 1 County Commission race on the ballot, any contest would probably be adjudicated “by the courts,” he said.
While conceding that “it certainly would have helped if we’d started sooner,” Meyers said he didn’t think the Commission’s delay in marching up districts with precincts while awaiting the Shelby County Commission’s reapportionment was the only factor that might have resulted in the glitches. There could be any number of “unknown factors,” he said.
A campaign flyer for state Rep. G.A. Hardaway, one of the candidates in the hotly contested House District 93 Democratic primary race, drew attacks Wednesday from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen as “not honest,” while backers of state Rep. Mike Kernell, Hardaway’s opponent, say their names were used without permission in the flyer.
At a press conference held at Cohen’s headquarters, longtime political activist David Upton and Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, both self-described supporters of Kernell, disputed the flyer’s use of their names as alleged endorsers of Hardaway. Mulroy also noted that his image was used in the flyer without permission.
Meanwhile, Cohen, whose voice was carried by telephone hookup from Washington, where Congress is still in session, conveyed his displeasure not only at Hardaway’s improper listing of Upton and Mulroy as Hardaway supporters but indirectly expressed dissatisfaction at the flyer’s use of a flattering description of Hardaway by Randy Wade, Cohen’s own right-hand man in Memphis. The congressman reiterated that he is a vigorous supporter of Kernell, whom he formally endorsed, along with several other candidates, at a press conference last month.
The quotation from Wade, who is identified as “district director for U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen,” appears in the flyer under a picture of Wade. It says: “If there is something that needs to be taken care of on the state level, I call Rep. G.A. Hardaway. He’s the go-to guy for the congressman’s office.”
Cohen did not expressly condemn or deny Wade’s statement, but he made a point of saying that he tried to maintain “good relations” with all local public officials and that “I probably talk to Mike more than any other person in Nashville.” Kernell said, “Steve works with everybody. I talk with him day and night. There’s no one ‘go-to’person.”
Concerning the flyer as a whole, Cohen said, “When people are not honest, it disparages the whole system.” He noted that the flyer contains images of two deceased former members of the state House, Ulysses Jones and Larry Turner. “I don’t think they take a position in the race,” he said.
Mulroy said explicitly, “I just want to make absolutely clear I am not endorsing G.A. Hardaway over Mike Kernell in this race,” adding later that he and Hardaway had been mutual supporters in other campaign seasons and supposed that “an assumption was made that was not warranted” about his probable support of Hardaway this time. Political protocol was “to ask permission on a campaign-by-campaign basis.” Mulroy made it clear that he was supporting Kernell in the present race, giving Kernell major credit for helping get his own political career started.
Upton noted, “I’m listed on here….I’ve endorsed G.A. in other races. I’ve contributed to
G.A. some, but I’m supporting Mike this time.”
Kernell talked about his “disappointment…when someone takes too much liberty.” Asked if he wanted to talk with Hardaway about the matter, he said, “I assume one of us will call the other tomorrow night,” getting a laugh.
Asked to respond later on, Hardaway insisted on giving a “case-by-case” reaction. Somewhat confirming Mulroy’s account, he acknowledged a mistake. Apparently, he said, someone on the staff of Malone Carter, the campaign consulting firm that compiled the names on the flyer, had mistakenly listed Mulroy, who, as the commissioner himself had indicated, had endorsed Hardaway in previous races. Hardaway said Mulroy had received an apology.
The case of Upton was different, according to Hardaway, and amounted to a “co-endorsement” of both himself and Kernell. He said Upton had expressly indicated his support as recently as during a lunch last week.|
Hardaway was critical of Cohen, saying, “He can’t bully me. If he spent less time fighting with other Democrats, we’d be in control of the county and the state. When was the last name he had a fight with a Republican?”