Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Memphis School Board President Tomeka Hart Responds to City Council

Posted By on Wed, Apr 16, 2008 at 4:00 AM

In an email to council education chair Janis Fullilove yesterday, Memphis City School Board president Tomeka Hart asked for clarification of the two bodies' working relationship.

"While I had hoped that we could work together to develop an annual agenda ... the MCS staff has received requests to report to the committee on a bi-monthly basis. ... It is difficult for our staff to prepare for such a meeting, and as you know under Tennessee Code Annotated, the Superintendent reports to the School Board, with his/her staff reporting to him/her."

The council's education committee expected representatives of the school district to be at City Hall yesterday and to participate in a discussion about alternative schools, discipline, graduation rates, and the school district’s budget. Only school board member Kenneth Whalum Jr. attended, angering members of the council.

Hart said that she and the superintendent would attend committee meetings May 20th to present the MCS budget.

Full Text of email

Councilwoman Fullilove,

I left you a voicemail, but decided to send you this email in case we do not connect today. We need clarification regarding the MCS presentations to the Education Committee. As I stated to you when we met, I feel strongly that the School Board and City Council should have a good working relationship; certainly one better than what the bodies have had in the past. The two bodies should be committed to working together to make sure our children and citizens receive the best service as related to their education, standard/conditions of living, safety/security, well-being, etc. To do so, the two bodies should meet on a regular basis to discuss the issues affecting our children and communities. With that, I want to make sure the bodies understand their roles and reporting responsibilities.

While I had hoped that we could work together to develop an annual agenda (i.e. quarterly meetings to discuss selected issues), the MCS staff has received requests to report to the committee on a bi-monthly basis (once or twice with a week's notice), and to be prepared to discuss broad management level issues. It is difficult for our staff to prepare for such a meeting, and as you know under Tennessee Code Annotated, the Superintendent reports to the School Board, with his/her staff reporting to him/her. Additionally, the TCA defines the role of the Superintendent and the Board, giving the responsibilities of management to the Superintendent and that of governance and policy setting to the School Board. Thus, under state law, the School Board does not even have the authority to control the management function of education.

While we don't want to create another reporting body for the MCS staff, we certainly understand the Council's need and desire for more information regarding the district in efforts of holding the district accountable for the funds you provide. To that end, we have always provided the Council with our annual audit and a detailed annual budget to assist you in making your funding decisions. The Superintendent and Board members have and will always attend the budget presentation to answer any questions the Education Committee and Council may have. Further, as I stated in our meeting, I look forward to the members of the Board meeting and working with the Council more regularly.

When the Education Committee voted to require us to make a presention of our audit to the Audit Committee, it did so on the basis that the council requires all of its quasi-governmental bodies to do so. The MCS was created by the Tennessee Legislature and is thus an actual governmental body; not a quasi-governmental body operating under the arms of the Council. To be sure, the Council's resolution establishing this requirement does not list MCS as a body required to present its audit. However, in the spirit of collaboration, we send you our annual audit each year. Further, Martavius Jones (Vice-President and Chair of our Audit Committee) and I will gladly meet with the committee to discuss our audit. However, we are not available do so on May 6, but would like to set a time that is convenient for the committee and us. I will set this up with Councilman Boyd.

As for the meeting on April 15, the MCS has historically submitted our budgets to the Council's and Commission's education committes on April 15, giving you time to review it and develop your questions. The Superintendent and Board members then return at a later date to answer the Education Committee's questions. The budget is then presented to the full council. We plan to submit the budget to your committee on April 15, and then the Superintendent, I and any other Board member who wants to attend, are scheduled to meet with your committee on May 20 to answer any questions you may have.

Please call me when you get an opportunity so we can discuss this. I welcome the opportunity to have a closer working relationship with the Council. I just want to make sure we do it properly, respecting the roles and responsibilities of each other. Also, I would like to assure you that the School Board and staff are very much aware of the issues and challenges facing the MCS. The School Board acts within its power and challenges the Superintendent to address the issues and to provide effective solutions.

Thanks.

Tomeka Hart

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