Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The SCS Board Approves Pacts with Three More Suburbs

Closure beckons, as even Germantown is said to be inclining toward agreement.

Posted By on Tue, Nov 26, 2013 at 10:24 PM

SCS Board meber David Reaves (l) being congratulated by Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald
  • JB
  • SCS Board meber David Reaves (l) being congratulated by Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald

With the approval Tuesday night of agreements allowing three more suburban municipalities — Millington, Collierville, and Bartlett — to acquire school buildings and proceed with establishing their independent school districts, the unified Shelby County Schools board needed only to reach some sort of understanding with Germantown, still aggrieved over the unified system’s intent to keep three flagship schools.

But, though SCS board member David Pickler, who represents Germantown, still holds out hope of retaining the schools — Germantown High School, Germantown Middle School, and Germantown Elementary — sentiment seems to be building on the newly elected Germantown school board to bite the bullet and accept some version of SCS superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s terms.

That’s what’s on the grapevine, anyhow, though hold-fast sentiment still exists in Germantown civic and political circles and could re-assert itself.

But meanwhile the SCS board took little time, during a special called meeting following its regular work session Tuesday night, to confer unanimous approval on agreements and school-property transfers to the three municipalities, whose school boards are expected to reciprocate as soon as feasible.

The terms of the agreements are identical to those agreed upon between the SCS board and Lakeland and Arlington — 12 years worth of installment payments, equaling in each case to a total that is something like ten cents on the dollar of the property being made over.

And, in the case of the three new municipalities as with Arlington and Lakeland previously, the agreement template is structured so as to avoid any reference to a sale per se. In theory, and perhaps also in practice, the monies owed by the municipalities will be earmarked for offsetting the costs of post-employment benefits accrued by the SCS system.

The precise obligations are:
*12 annual payments of $672,193 by Bartlett, for a total of $7,298,316;
*12 annual payments of $507,819 by Collierville, for a total of $6,093,828;
*12 annual payments of $230,219 by Millington, for a total of $2,762,628.

As with the prior agreements, the school properties would revert to SCS upon any meaningful default by one of the contracting municipalities.

All parties on both sides of the bargaining line — again, with the exception, so far, of Germantown — seem satisfied, though the total sums that might be collected by SCS — including those forthcoming from an agreement with Germantown — add up to far less than the $57 million that is still owed to SCS (as the successor to the defunct Memphis City Schools) by the perpetually delinquent City of Memphis.

Perhaps everybody is just ready for a time-out. Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz, the Germantown Republican who, before, during, and after his one-year chairmanship, spearheaded the Commission’s litigation efforts against (and bargaining with) the suburbs, certainly is.

“It was an intense, focusing, and necessary effort for us,” said Ritz, “but it was time for a settlement.”

Ritz confided Tuesday that he had experienced a fair degree of hostility and ostracism from certain of his fellow townsfolk during the last three years of legal struggle between the Commission and the suburban municipalities. He saw the outcome balancing out — with the state legislature boosting the suburbs’ case and the courts, personified by presiding federal judge Hardy Mays, issuing rulings that strengthened the Commission's hands.

He sees Judge Mays signing off on the agreements as soon as they are complete between the SCS board and the municipalities, and, since the Commission and Memphis City Council intend to drop litigation as the suburbs concur, through formal action by their newly elected school boards, the case will soon be at an end, some three years after it began with the December 2010 surrender by the old Memphis City Schools board of the MSC charter.

The County Commission is likely to drop its former intention to expand the number of SCS board members from the board's present component of seven, Ritz said, and he expressed confidence in the “new faces” that largely populate the current board ensemble.

At some point, the Commission will probably seek to draw new district lines for the Shelby County School district, leaving the territories of the six suburban municipalities outside the lines and requiring a reshuffling of the SCS board's membership, Ritz said. but he specified no timetable for such an action.

The SCS Board, under a mission statement of sorts
  • JB
  • The SCS Board, under a mission statement of sorts

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Can You Name This Tunester?

Hint: He's never stopped playing to the crowd.

Posted By on Sun, Nov 24, 2013 at 9:45 PM

MJystery_Troubador.jpg


And who mjight this troubador be, all ye political junkies? We don't have 64 silver dollars to offer for a right answer, but we will appreciate your acumen, if that's a help. (And don't say we don't offer a few fun facts once in a while!)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Why Are These Men Not Smiling?

Posted on Fri, Nov 22, 2013 at 7:47 AM

haslam_corker_vw.jpg
As this week's editorial explains, Governor Bill Haslam and Senator Bob Corker are bugged by Volkswagen's openness to employee unions.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Pre-K Debate: Costs Versus Effectiveness

Memphis voters have heard both sides of the argument and will resolve the fate of a half-cent sales tax referendum on Thursday.

Posted By on Thu, Nov 21, 2013 at 12:27 AM

Flinn and Whalum debate the referendum at Rotary
  • courtesy of Fox 13
  • Flinn and Whalum debate the referendum at Rotary

“We have to pay for things we need and things that will improve our city. Pre-K is one of those things”: That was how Shea Flinn, co-sponsor with City Council colleague Jim Strickland of the 2014 half-cent sales-tax ballot initiative, began his climactic public appeal on Tuesday.

That was in a one-on-one debate format with the Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr., a leading referendum opponent, before a Memphis Rotary Club luncheon audience at the University Club. Some 40-odd minutes later, in his conclusion, Whalum objected, “In what by any standard is the poorest big city in the United States, with one of the highest illiteracy rates, we must not further burden the children of our city and their parents.”

In the half-hour plus of dialogue that was book-ended by these remarks, the two main concepts embedded in the referendum were amply vented: the value to Memphis children of a proposed city-wide pre-Kindergarten program vis-à-vis the price taxpayers would have to pay for it.

Flinn emphasized the former, Whalum the latter. Flinn insisted that the referendum carried with it an “iron-clad guarantee” that the monies raised — somewhere in the tens of millions of dollars annually — would go into a touch-proof fund reserved primarily for pre-K and secondarily for property-tax reduction. Whalum responded that the language of the referendum focused not on pre-K but on the fact of a sales-tax increase, and that, he said, was what voters were being asked to cast their ballots for.

Flinn maintained that studies showed that pre-K was beneficial and would yield long-term economic results and that every dollar spent would “give you five dollars back.” Whalum said the proposed half-cent sales-tax increase was regressive, a further indignity heaped upon the poor, and that opponents of the referendum, like himself, were “for pre-K,” but “against this means of paying for it.”

Whalum was not all that sure what the various studies of pre-K had shown, for that matter, suggesting that claims of lasting benefits, especially beyond the third grade, were “unproven.” And, for his part, Flinn insisted that property taxes, the other basic financing method available, was perhaps as regressive for Memphians as the sales tax, especially since tourists and people who lived elsewhere but worked in Memphis helped pay the latter.

In a variety of ways and by various yardsticks, the two weighed advantages against costs. Pointed but thoughtful, their thrusts and counter-thrusts were a recapitulation in miniature of a longer, more wide-ranging and often more boisterous debate held the night before, in the presence of a lively crowd at the Hooks Main Library.

That one had been between Whalum and Barbara Prescott, the former Memphis school board member who had most recently headed up the Transition Planning Commission created by the legislature to advise on city-county school merger. And, however different in kind (and volume) it might have been from the Rotary debate, the problem discussed was essentially the same — that of costs versus value received.

There were — and are —numerous ways of carrying out such an evaluation, and essentially the city-wide debate, which has heated up seriously within the last two weeks, has taken place between those poles. The Memphians who go to the polls on Thursday, adding their judgment to those already cast by early voters, will determine to which side of the equation the pendulum tilts.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

SCS Board Approves Agreements with Arlington and Lakeland

Way is clear for other suburbs to follow suit, ending longstanding school litigation, though Germantown's situation remains unclear. County Commission will meet Thursday to end litigation against first two suburbs.

Posted By on Tue, Nov 19, 2013 at 10:43 PM

SCS attorney Valerie Speakman reads terms of agreement with Lakeland as board member David Reaves, who moved to accept it, listens.
  • JB
  • SCS attorney Valerie Speakman reads terms of agreement with Lakeland as board member David Reaves, who moved to accept it, listens.

It’s official now. With the unanimous 7-0 passage Tuesday night by the unified Shelby County Schools board of template agreements with the municipalities of Arlington and Lakeland, the long-standing litigation over new school-district arrangements in Shelby County is fast on its way to conclusion.

Mayor Keith McDonald of Bartlett, who was in attendance,said categorically that his city was eager to follow the lead of his fellow mayors, Mike Wissman of Arlington and Wyatt Bunker of Lakeland, who endorsed the agreements Tuesday night on behalf of their municipalities. Millington and Collierville are also said to be ready to follow suit, and when the School Board convenes again Tuesday night, expectations are that agreements with those municipalities may be ready for a vote.

The situation is cloudier with Germantown, which still hopes to bargain for the retrieval of the three flagship schools — Germantown High School, Germantown Middle School, and Germantown Elementary — that SCS superintendent Dorsey Hopson has included in his projection for the unified district, going forward.

David Pickler, who represents Germantown on the SCS board, voted along his colleagues to support the agreements with Arlington and Lakeland, at least partly in hopes that the technical formulas put forth in them would apply as well to Germantown, forming the basis for his city’s hopes to keep the three flagship schools within the forthcoming Germantown Municipal School District.

Pickler said he would resolutely oppose any effort by SCS to impose anything other than a pro-rated arrangement with Germantown consistent with the template now established. He acknowledged that agreement between SCS and Germantown might not be an immediate thing.

For a variety of reasons, both political and legalistic, the agreements approved Tuesday night do not posit a direct sale per se of school properties by SCS to Arlington and Lakeland, but rather the free deeding over of the school properties in return for specific financial liabilities on the municipalities’ part regarding pensions and OPEBs (Other Post-Employment Benefits) accruing to SCS.

However reckoned, these costs come out to a value of ten cents or somewhat higher on every dollar’s worth of school-property value in Arlington and Lakeland. Calculated on the basis of Arlington’s four public schools and Lakeland’s one, the payments expected of Arlington are $333,333 each year annually for 12 years, or $4 million, and for Lakeland of $56,337 annually for 12 years, or $676,744.

Consistent with the formulas adopted, the board took four votes, one each for transferring school properties to both Arlington and Lakeland, and another two votes on behalf of identical agreements with the two municipalities, the thrust of which is to saddle the municipalities with responsibility to keep faith under penalty of the properties’ reversion to SCS ownership.

The agreements with Arlington and Lakeland, apparently soon to be embraced by Bartlett, Millington, and Collierville, clearly involved a good deal of bargaining.

Board member Teresa Jones, who represents an inner city district, said she began by wanting “the kitchen sink” from the suburbs but came to understand the need for compromise. David Reaves of suburban Bartlett said it was “time to end this battle” — one which began almost three years ago, when the old Memphis City Schools board voted to surrender the MCS charter, forcing the city-county school merger which the county’s six incorporated suburbs sought independence from.

There was something “bittersweet” about the pending resolution of the three-year controversy, said board chairman Kevin Woods, but the second part of that term seemed the operative one for almost everybody Tuesday night.

By prior arrangement, the Shelby County Commission, chief among remaining litigants in contention with the suburbs, will meet Thursday for its own vote on removing Arlington and Lakeland from the scope of its lawsuit.

The same process will undoubtedly be followed in turn for each suburb that accedes to the now-established template for agreement, though the status of Germantown remains uncertain and hard to predict. Pickler acknowledged that quick agreement between Germantown and SCS is "not likely."

Monday, November 18, 2013

Nearly $5 Million "Sale" of Buildings to Arlington, Lakeland Could Lead to End of School Litigation

Arlington and Lakeland ready to sign off on OPEB-linked indirect purchases of school properties from SCS district; other suburbs said ready to make similar deals,as SCS board agrees.

Posted By on Mon, Nov 18, 2013 at 10:11 PM

Lawyers gather as County Commission prepares for executive session on settling school litigation. From left: Chris Patterson, representing Lakeland; Charles Perkins, representing Arlington; Lori Patterson (no relation to Chris), special attorney for the Shelby County Commission; and Kelly Rayne, Shelby County Attorney
  • JB
  • Lawyers gather as County Commission prepares for executive session on settling school litigation. From left: Chris Patterson, representing Lakeland; Charles Perkins, representing Arlington; Lori Patterson (no relation to Chris), special attorney for the Shelby County Commission; and Kelly Rayne, Shelby County Attorney
The dominoes have started falling: That was the message that emerged from Monday’s meeting of the Shelby County Commission. At the heel of the meeting (procedural jargon for holding this or that piece of business untl the very end), the Commission adjourned for an executive session with attorney Lori Patterson.

When it ended, enough was revealed by Chairman James Harvey and other members to indicate that two of the six suburban municipalities that have been on the other end of litigation brought by the Commission — Arlington and Lakeland — were ready to reach agreement with the Commission on terms that will be brought before the unified Shelby County Schools board at its scheduled Tuesday night work session.

Though the chapter and verse of the agreement were to be withheld until a special called meeting of the unified Shelby County Schools board Tuesday night, it was learned, from several sources familiar with negotiations, that the two municipalities would accept financial terms involving direct purchase of school properties within their geographic jurisdictions and that the prices of the properties would be considerably higher than token ones.

The price tags, keyed to number of buildings and cost per square foot, were almost $4 million for Arlington and nearly $1 million for Lakeland.

Specifically, Arlington would be paying the unified Shelby County Schools district the amount of $333,333.00 annually for 12 years. The payments for Lakeland will be $56,337 annually, also for 12 years.

For a variety of reasons, both political and legalistic, the agreements with Arlington and Lakeland are couched not as property sales per se but as transfers of property in a framework that includes payments by the municipalities to compensate SSC for pension liabilities and long-term costs pertaiing to OPEBS (Other Post-Employment Benefits).

Additional protocols in the agreements provide for the transferred properties to revert to SCS in the event of any irregularity in compliance with the proposed terms or direct breach of them.

Indications are that Millington officials would soon be accepting similar propositions — probably this week — and that Bartlett and Collierville would not be far behind (although some wrinkles still need to be ironed out in all these cases).

The template for an agreement differs from the 40-year leasing arrangements proposed two weeks ago by superintendent Dorsey Hopson of the unified SCS district, but the Board, which was scheduled to take up these first agreements at a special called meeting at 9 p.m. Tuesday, was expected to find the revised terms amenable.

Should these agreements indeed be concluded with five of the municipalities, only Germantown would find itself still in litigation. The city’s officials remain aggrieved by attendance zones proposed by Hopson for the unified county system that include three Germantown schools — Germantown High School, Germantown Middle School, and Gerrmantown Elementary.

Although County Commissioner Chris Thomas said Monday he would defer presenting a motion for full and complete discontinuation of the Commission’s lawsuit, pending events of the next two weeks, members of the Commission majority who have supported the litigation indicate they are not prepared to give it up so long as Germantown holds out.

The Commission was scheduled to hold a special meeting Thursday to consider further action so long as copies of the suggested agreement were in its possession as of noon Tuesday. (That was a condition insisted on by Commissioner Heidi Shafer.) Friday was set aside as a contingency date in case there was a delay in disseminating copies of the proposed agreement.

Squaring Off on the Pre-K Tax Measure

Monday night’s spirited LWV debate and Tuesday’s scheduled Rotary Club forum highlight last-minute efforts before Memphis voters get to decide the issue on Thursday.

Posted By on Mon, Nov 18, 2013 at 10:10 PM

Tempers frayed somewhat in a heated debate on Thursday’s Pre-K Sales Tax Referendum, held Monday night at the Hooks Main Library on Poplar Avenue and sponsored by the Memphis League of Women Voters.

But there were light moments, too, in the encounter between Barbara Prescott, a proponent of the half-cent sales tax increase, and the Rev. Kenneth Whalum, an avowed opponent. Above is one such, occurring as Prescott attempted to characterize one of Whalum’s opinions, based on her reading of his tweets.

Monday night’s encounter was not the only last-ditch showdown on the sales-tax issue. Another one was scheduled for Tuesday at noon at the University Club. Sponsored by the Memphis Rotary Club, this one will match Whalum, who once again will make the case against the tax, and City Councilman Shea Flinn, one of the referendum’s sponsors.

Because of limited seating for the University Club event, a luncheon, non-members will be asked to pay an admission fee of $18.

Extended reviews of both debates will be featured in this space before Election Day, Thursday, November 21.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Six Shelby County Suburbs Elect School Boards

Races in Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Arlington, Lakeland, and Millington characterized by light turnouts and mostly unopposed outcomes.

Posted By on Fri, Nov 8, 2013 at 8:17 AM

school_elections.jpg

School board races, most of them uncontested and all of them drawing ight turnouts, were concluded Thursday in the six incorporated municipalities of suburban Shelby County which intend to operate independent school districts beginning in 2014.

In GERMANTOWN, focus of controversy these days because three of its schools are slated for use by the existing unified Shelby County Schools district, there was one contested race out of five. In that Position 1 encounter, Linda Fisher, with 1,094 votes, defeated opponents Paige Michael (877) and Edgar Babian (616).

Other elected Germantown school board members were Mark Dely, Natalie Williams, Lisa L. Parker and Ken Hoover.

BARTLETT had two contested races — one for Position 2, in which Erin Elliott Berry (1.487 votes) won out over Alison Shores (415); and another for Position 5, won by David Cook (1,552) over Sharon L. Farley (365).

Unopposed for the Bartlett School Board were Jeff Norris, Shirley K. Jackson and Bryan Woodruff.

In MILLINGTON, there were three contested races — Cecilia Haley (306) defeating Oscar L. Brown (236) for Position 2; Jennifer Ray Carroll (394) winning out over Tom Stephens (113) for Position 6; and Donald K. Holsinger (289) besting Charles P. Reed (235) for Position 7.

Unopposed winners in Millington were Gregory Ritter, Chuck Hurt, Cody Childress and Louise Kennon.

In LAKELAND, the top 5 finishers of 7 contenders become the board. They are: Kevin Floyd (642); Laura Harrison (639); Kelley Hale (610); Matt Wright (556); and Teresa Henry (475). Also running were: James Andrew Griffith (288) and Greg Pater (94).

ARLINGTON, which plans to consolidate its school efforts with those of Lakeland, elected five board members without opposition. They are: Danny Young, Barbara Fletcher, Kevin Yates, Kay Morgan Williams and Dale A. Viox.

COLLIERVILLE also elected five board members without opposition. They are: Kevin Vaughan, Wanda Chism, Mark Hansen, Cathy Messerly and Wright Cox.

Ronald Reagan’s Lament, Post-Assassination Attempt, About the Brown Suit He'd Been Wearing

That and other tales were told by radio talk show host Michael Reagan, the late President’s adopted son, at a Life Choices dinner Thursday night.

Posted By on Fri, Nov 8, 2013 at 7:04 AM

Radio talk show host Michael Reagan regaled a packed Life Choices audience at the University of Memphis Holiday Inn on Central Thursday night with stories about himself — and about his father, the late former President Ronald Reagan.

One tale he told, chronicled in the video above, concerned his father’s morning-after preoccupation in 1981 with the fate of the brown suit he had been wearing when he was shot by the would-be assassin John Hinckley — and the then President’s unusual suggestion as to how the Hinckley family might make amends.

Lamenting that his new brown suit had been cut away from his body and shredded at the hospital, the stricken President said he’d been told the Hinckley family had lucrative oil interests and wondered, “Do you think they’d buy me a new suit?”

The occasion, sponsored by the group’s Ladies’ Auxiliary, was a fundraising dinner for the organization’s Pregnancy Help Medical Clinics. The clinic promotes adoption as an alternative to abortion and provides medical and counseling support toward that end.

Another affecting story told by Michael Reagan concerned the affectionate relationship he developed with the affable but famously remote President relatively late in his adoptive father’s life and how that relationship continued even into the final stages of Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s condition.

That story concluded with an account of how the former President, unable to speak and with his ability to recognize kith and kin long gone, still retained enough memory, as his son recalled, “to know that I was the man who gave him hugs” and, by taking “baby steps” toward the door and miming, insisted on one as Michael Reagan was leaving the Reagan household one day after a visit with step-mother Nancy Reagan.

The thrust of Michael Reagan’s remarks, in support of the host organization’s goal, was to emphasize that he, at least one sister, and both of Ronald Reagan’s wives, Jane Wyman and Nancy Davis, had been adopted children and were thus enabled to achieve productive lives. “We were a family put together by adoption,” as he put it.

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