Flyer InteractiveEditorial

A Lab For Diversity

The Memphis School Board, which manages to conduct spirited and lengthy discussions about almost anything that comes before it, took on one of its most interesting challenges ever at the board's weekly meeting Monday night. The subject? The downtown school.

After years of discussion, the new school is finally under construction, with projected boundaries, an ambitious curriculum, and -- in tribute to the controversy which has always swirled about the concept -- guaranteed special attention from the Board of Education.

The controversy Monday night concerned the same matters that preoccupied several board members years ago -- class and race. Will the new school be for the advantage of "Pitt Hyde and the employees of AutoZone?" board member Hubon Sandridge wondered Monday night. That is probably putting the matter too baldly, but it's what the fuss has always been about.

Superintendent Gerry House presented a provisional formula which gave priority to students living in the downtown area, with secondary consideration to children of people working there. In addition, some 240 mainly African-American students from Carnes Elementary School would be reassigned to the new school, set to open in the 2000-2001 academic year -- ironically, more or less in the same time frame as the nearby AutoZone Park.

As board members chewed the matter over, it became obvious that everyone involved is making a conscientious effort to A) make the new facility a model school; and B) ensure that it is indeed racially balanced. "We should make it a laboratory for diversity," said Dr. Barbara Prescott.

Indeed we should.

Good Signs, Bad Signs

The announcement this week of Echelon Corporation's new residential development on Mud Island is a good sign, further evidence -- as if any were needed -- of the remarkable rebirth of downtown Memphis. This renaissance, fueled by a potent combination of private entrepreneurship and public cooperation, that is increasingly being seen nationally as an example for other cities to emulate.

But in the midst of this happy news an ugly issue reemerged from the city council's planning and zoning committee. Fueled by the unrelenting lobbying efforts of the outdoor media companies, the committee dragged from the closet yet another attempt to loosen the city's billboard ordinance. The proposal, which was defeated by the council last year, would allow billboards on lots where buildings currently exist, opening the door for literally thousands of new billboards.

We say enough is enough. What's needed are stricter sign regulations, not looser ones. And we need to enforce the laws already in place, which are currently ignored. If you don't like this newspaper, you can throw it away; if you don't like a commercial on television you can change the channel. Billboards, on the other hand, are ugly and inescapable -- and seemingly everywhere. The industry's influence on legislative bodies is simply way out of proportion to its economic benefit to the community. It behooves the citizens of Memphis to call their council representatives and express themselves on this issue. If we don't, we can prepare to see a lot more bad signs in the future -- downtown and elsewhere.


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