Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Marathon Men: Would-be Memphis School Superintendents Get Specific

Posted By on Wed, Jun 4, 2008 at 4:00 AM

The two finalists for Memphis City Schools superintendent are both in it to win it.

Kriner Cash and Nick Gledich made that clear as much by their actions as their words. Each one answered questions for more than two hours Wednesday. But, most significantly, they showed a serious interest in the job just by showing up.

Two of the five finalists previously dropped out, and there were fears that Cash and/or Gledich might follow suit in the wake of bad publicity about MCS and Mayor Willie Herenton's dismissal of them as "third-rate" applicants.

Both Cash and Gledich showed an awareness of local current events, and both made references to hot topics such as the sexy dance caught on tape at Mitchell High School, the low graduation rate, and the City Council's school budget cuts.

The protocol Wednesday was for Cash, then Gledich, to sit around a table with eight school board members (Kenneth Whalum Jr. was absent) and answer prepared questions, while television news cameras shot the whole thing and 25-40 spectators and reporters watched.

The questions were more timely and pointed than the general thumb-suckers in the first round, but there were no direct references to Herenton, school closings, race (Cash is black and Gledich is white), charter schools, or optional schools -- all hot-button issues in the real world of MCS.

Both Cash and Gledich showed moments of passion and spontaneity. Cash, who is from the Dade County school system in Miami, said "heads will roll behind something like that" if there is a recurrence of the Mitchell High School incident at a school function. Interim Superintendent Dan Ward brought national attention to the simulated-sex "dance" by going on the Bill O'Reilly show. Cash said MCS needs "quick wins" next year, more emphasis on applied education matched to workforce needs, and its own security force apart from the Memphis Police Department.

A finalist in other cities, Cash said he has "placed Memphis at the very top of my list at this time," but he has two caveats. One is the timing -- the decision must come by June 11th, as the board has promised. And "political issues" must be resolved in a way that maintains the autonomy of the school board and superintendent apart from the city mayor and county government.

Gledich, who is from Orlando, Florida, gave his most definitive answer when asked if he would take the job if offered and be ready to go to work July 1st.

"Yes," he said. And that was all. Otherwise, Gledich seemed slightly more long-winded than Cash, although both men stayed within the roughly three-minute time limit for each question. He emphasized his background as a teacher, principal,and administrator with the same school system for 30 years.

Something about that 30-year mark was important," he said, adding that his wife, who was present for the interview, wants him to work another 10-12 years. He said he would be willing to spend those years in Memphis if asked.

Both candidates said they are opposed to corporal punishment.

Gledich said he has paddled children as a teacher and principal but gave it up some 20 years ago. Cash said that as a boy he was paddled himself by his father but agrees with studies that show it is ineffective in the school system.

The two finalists will be in Memphis Wednesday and Thursday for additional meetings with principals and the general public.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Memphis Magazine Earns Top Honors in Journalism Competition

Posted By on Tue, Jun 3, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Memphis magazine received a first-place Gold Medal for General Excellence at the 2008 City and Regional Magazine Awards, presented during the final night of the CRMA annual convention at The Peabody, Monday.

Memphis is published by Contemporary Media, Inc., which also publishes the Memphis Flyer and Memphis Parent. Memphis also earned a Gold Medal in the ancillary publication division for Memphis Business Quarterly, and a third-place Bronze Medal in the cover design category for its June 2007 "Fat City" issue.

Judges noted: "Memphis magazine hits the high notes of any top-notch city magazine, with attractive and intriguing covers, lively coverage of local celebrities, and mouth-watering food photography. But what really sets Memphis apart is the audacity of its goal: It strives to be the authority on all things Memphis, and to a large degree, it succeeds."

More than 60 magazines of various circulation sizes competed in this year's contest. The competition is organized by the University of Missouri School of Journalism, which selected a team of more than 70 judges from Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, The New York Times, and other national publications.

Memphis magazine has been honored with more than 40 regional and national journalism awards since being founded in 1976. This is its first gold medal for general excellence from CRMA.

Council Votes 10-3 to Cut School Funding

Posted By on Tue, Jun 3, 2008 at 4:00 AM

After an hour and a half of debate - modest by the yardstick of past council controversies - the Memphis city council voted by the surprising margin of 10-3 to cut $66 million from its annual contribution to the budget of Memphis City Schools. The successful proposal was offered by freshman councilman Bill Morrison, a teacher himself, and It carried with it what Morrison said was an 18-cent reduction in the city property-tax rate -- from $3.43 to $ 3.25 per $100 of assessed value.

The vote not only flew in the face of council tradition that education spending is sacrosanct but came after impassioned pleas to leave the school budget intact from a volley of speakers including Johnnie Turner of the NAACP and Yvonne Acey of the Memphis Education Association. Two council members, Joe Brown and Barbara Swearengen Ware, then resolved to hold the line on cuts, while another, freshman Jim Strickland, who had been one of the original proponents of steep reductions, called for a "go-slow" policy that would cut a lesser amount from the schools and more from other city programs.

But the rest of the council showed itself determined to usher in a sea change in council policy toward school spending. Councilman Edmund Ford Jr., another teacher, signaled the council's mood early in the debate when he cited a "duty to my conscience and to the citizens," who - as he and others would go on to say - were already burdened with too heavy a tax rate.

Similar notes were struck by others, including Harold Collins, who noted that other departments of city government were being cut and attempted to redirect "moral obligations" toward those "who cannot continue to pay the tax." Shea Flinn echoed Collions' assertion that "the children would not be hurt," and he, former school board member Wanda Halbert , and councilwoman Janis Fullilove focused on what was described variously as a pattern of waste in school spending, as bureaucratic "bloat," and as inattention to the need for closing certain schools.

All spoke of the need to focus concern on overburdened taxpayers. In embracing what he termed the "heresy" of decreases in education spending, 16-year council veteran Myron Lowery proclaimed it "a new day," in which "nothing is sacred."

The Morrison proposal included a provision for forgiveness by the city of $15 million in debt accruing to the school system. That, together with $20.2 million from property taxes, and $7.1 percent from unspecified other courses, would yield the schools a total of $42.3 million from the city, the councilman said.

Only county governments are required by state law to fund schools, and several of the speakers for the Morrison proposal on Tuesday suggested that county government, which already provides the brunt of expenditures for city schools, as well as for county schools, could compensate for the city's reduced share. That's in the long run; in the short run, the school system maintains a "rainy day" reserve fund estimated at $120 million.

School board member Betty Mallott said after the vote that she was disappointed in a council action that seemed "impetuous" but said she might have found acceptable a scaled-down, "transitional" policy, like that advocated by Strickland. "The council could have begun to phase in its reductions over the next year instead of doing something this abrupt," she said.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Bar-Kays Play Baghdad ... and Other Music Notes

Posted By on Mon, Jun 2, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Memphis soul legends, the Bar-Kays, are currently touring Iraq and Kuwait, performing for U.S. troops. They've visited troops in camp, hospitals, and one of Saddam Hussein's palaces. They recorded video footage, even conducted interviews with troops, and have taken plenty of pictures along the way, which they'll share with us upon their return.

The band will be back in Memphis Wednesday, June 4. I suppose the cynical question will be "where do you hear more gunfire?"

Eddie Floyd, New Stax, Old Soul Former Bar-Kays' Stax colleague Eddie Floyd of "Knock on Wood" fame, became the first old school soul artist to record for the new Stax label. The Tracks on Eddie Loves You So cover mostly familiar territory for Floyd, going back to his days with the Detroit supergroup, the Falcons. He gives us a fresh rendition of "You're So Fine," originally cut nearly 50 years ago. In a neat twist on the veteran-artist-sings-standards format, Floyd performs a few successful tunes he penned for other singers, but never waxed himself, including "I Will Always Have Faith in You," which Carla Thomas reached the Top 20 with in 1967, and Sam & Dave's "You Don't Know What You Mean To Me."

Eddie Loves You So hits the streets July 29.

The reinvigorated Memphis Music Foundation has opened the new Musicians Resource Center at 431 S. Main Street. The foundation, under the leadership of Dean Deyo and aristocrunk artiste Cameron "Lord T" Mann, will provide independent artists with technological tools and music industry expertise needed to further their careers in a perplexing and ever-changing field.

Blue Monday at the Plush Club: That's right, the Beale Street nightspot that's known for hip-hop and (alleged) Tiger brawls is mellowing things out. At least on Monday evenings. WDIA disc jockey Steve Ladd hosted the first installment of the weekly after work blues party at 380 Beale last Monday.

The great Big Don Valentine band, which features original Bar-Kays trumpeter Ben Cauley, provides the accompaniment to an all-karaoke-star lineup of singers including the great Preacherman, Nate Dog, and Charles Holifield. The entertainment begins at 6:30p.m. and runs till 10.

You never know who you might encounter there. Martial arts hero Steven Seagal. Tito Jackson, and Kevin Kane have been spotted within the walls of the purple palace. It is also theoretically possible that you'll see Joey Dorsey there since he's out from under Coach John Calipari's repressive social mandate of "no Plush Club."

-- Preston Lauterbach

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