The second potential vacancy is that of Bunker’s Commission colleague Chris Thomas, who has been asked by Bunker, now serving as mayor of Lakeland, to apply for the job of Lakeland city manager.
Lakeland’s Board of Commissioners, which met Monday night, has delayed immediate action on replacing former city manager Robert “Bob” Wherry, who was fired last week. The vacancy has been publicly advertised, with a deadline for applications of December 13. The board will meet again on December 17 to decide on a hire.
Bunker’s letter to Harvey (see below) specified that his resignation would take effect on January 3. The Commission will be tasked with naming an interim replacewment for Bunker — and for Thomas, too, if need be. Both Bunker and Thomas are District 4 Republicans.
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.
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!)
“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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
The openings were created when state Supreme Court Justice Janice M. Holder informed Governor Bill Haslam that she would not seek reelection when her term ends on August 31 of next year, and Judge David R. Farmer informed the governor similarly about his seat on the Court of Appeals, Western Division.
SUPREME COURT: All but one of the five applicants for Holder’s Supreme Court position are Memphians, as is Holder. They are:
Criminal Court Judge Chris Craft
Judge Holly Kirby, Court of Appeals, Western Section
John Brook Lathram of the Bass, Berry, and Sims law firm
Steve Mulroy, Shelby County Commissioner and University of Memphis law professor
The position is also sought by:
William Lewis Jenkins Jr., of the Dyersburg law firm Wilkerson Gauldin Hayes Jenkins & Dedmon
COURT OF APPEALS, WESTERN SECTION: Four of the six applicants are Memphians. They are:
Chancellor Kenny Armstrong
Frank S. Cantrell, deputy director of Memphis Area Legal Services
Rhynette Northcross Hurd, mediator and co-founder of the Ridder, Hurd firm
Dorothy J. Pounders, managing member of the Pounders, Coleman firm
There are two applicants from Jackson:
Brandon LK. Gipson, partner of the Pentecost and Gipson firm
Attorney Edward L. Martindale
The Governor’s Commission on Judicial Appointments will meet November 12 in Jackson to interview candidates for the Court of Appeals position and hear public comments. The Commission will then meet in Nashville on November 13 for the same purpose in regard to the Supreme Court candidates.
The special election, which is scheduled for November 21, with early voting in effect from Friday, November 1, though Saturday, November 16, will pit Tomasik against Ramesh Akbari, who won the Democratic nomination for the seat in a special primary election on October 8. The election is to determine a successor to the late Lois DeBerry.
In view of the closeness of the general election date, lawyers for Tomasik had sought an emergency injunction from Judge Haynes, who, after hearing arguments at a hearing Thursday, issued it from the bench.
In making his ruling, Judge Haynes noted that in February 2012 he had already ruled unconstitutional provisions of Tennessee’s pre-existing ballot access law, which had allowed automatic ballot access only for Democratic and Republican candidates, requiring “minor” parties to meet standards for ballot access which he considered prohibitively difficult.
That ruling was in response to a joint suit by the Green Party and Constitutional Party, who were faced with a requirement to present roughly 40,000 signatures on petitions to gain state ballot access. That figure, representing 2.5 percent of the votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election, was coupled with early deadlines and with requirements that petitioners be members of the affected parties
The offices state Election Coordinator Mark Goins and Secretary of State Tre Hargett were the defendants in 2012 and in Libertarian Tomasik’s case as well. The state has appealed Haynes 2012 ruling.
Meanwhile, efforts have been underway in the General Assembly to reform the state’s ballot access law. State Senator Jim Kyle (D-Memphis) filed SB 1091 in the 2013 legislative session, which would require milder requirements for minor parties to gain ballot access — 250 petitioners in the case of state Senate or state House elections.
The bill was bottled up in the state and local committees of both legislative chambers, but a 9-member study commission on ballot access was created, with Kyle as the sole Democrat among six legislative members. One member each from the Green, Libertarian, and Constitutional parties filled out the commission’s membership.
Kyle said that Senator Ken Yager (R, Harriman, chairman of the House state and local committee and ad hoc chair of the commission, had canceled a meeting of the commission that had been scheduled for mid-October. That was about the time that Tomasik filed his suit.
Prior to Thursday’s hearing and Judge Haynes’ ruling, Kyle had welcomed the hearing as a test case for ballot-access reform. The Memphis Democrat, chairman of the Senate Democratic caucus, said Jason Huff of his staff had done a study indicating that both the state and the nation were subject to cycles of party realignment which recurred roughly every 70 years and that the political ferment for such a moment was at hand.
Kyle also suggested that sates with elected secretaries of state had proved most amenable to ballot-access reform and that perhaps Tennessee should transition to a method of popular election for its secretary of state.
Most unusually for a school board meeting — of whatever jurisdiction — the main drama was not delayed by curricular or procedural minutiae at a jam-packed business session Monday night. Germantown, whose officials and citizens showed up en masse at the Coe administration building on Avery, saw the seven-member Shelby County Schools board turn down its plea for retaining the three schools siphoned from it in superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s new school plan, or at least for more time to discuss it.
Referring to debate on the matter as “a conversation just begun," Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy, said, "We respectfully ask, even urge, that you delay a definitive decision about the schools within the city of Germantown.” She thereby led a parade of several fellow townsfolk in the board’s opening public period, which also featured spokespersons for other causes, including the rescue of South Side High School from the state’s ASD system, over which the board had no control, and for a K-through-8 expansion at Barrett’s Chapel, over which it did.
The Barrett’s Chapel folks would get their way, those from South Side couldn’t, and those from Germantown didn’t, despite some eloquent testifiers, including the young son of Tim Coulter, who followed his father with the affectingly simple line, “Please don’t take my school” (an echo of the South Siders’ own plea, “Please don’t take our school away”).
40-year leases for each municipality
After the public period was over, there were reports — from board chairman Kevin Woods, from the chairs of various committees, and finally the crucial one, the superintendent’s report, delivered in Hopson’s flat and measured phrasing.
After a typically understated reference to the “extraordinary level of angst” that had afflicted all sectors of the county during the school-merger controversy, followed by a brief statement of the good news for the Barrett’s Chapel contingent, Hopson detailed, city by city, his plan for the six incorporated suburbs that plan to have their own municipal school systems in August 2014.
Beginning with Arlington and proceeding through Bartlett, Lakeland, Millington, Germantown, and Collierville, Hopson read out his formula — a 40-year lease on terms to be negotiated for county school buildings currently within the cities’ municipal limits, and with each city responsible for both defaults and damages.
In only two cases was the number of leasable properties less than the number within those limits. As had been revealed in Hopkins’ bombshell announcement last week, Shelby County Schools intends to maintain responsibility for Lucy Elementary School in a community newly annexed by Millington and for three namesake institutions in Germantown — Germantown High School, Germantown Middle School, and Germantown Elementary School.
As Hopson and other SCS spokespersons explained last week, the choice of institutions to be retained was dictated by the system’s decision — for financial and various logistical reasons — to provide public education for the unincorporated areas of Shelby County and for the school-age populations in those areas. The four institutions chosen all contained majorities of pupils living in the unincorporated areas. (In an interview, though, Goldsworthy would contest that fact for Germantown Elementary.)
“In a nutshell,” said Hopson, “I have authorized myself and Ms. [Valerie] Speakman [the board attorney]” as negotiators with the suburbs.
"In the north...people like this deal...."
First board member to address the Hopson resolution was David Pickler, representative of Germantown and Collierville. Pickler expressed himself as “deeply troubled” by a plan that had not been submitted to an “open, fair, and public conversation” but had been engineered with “a very specific guiding of what the outcome had to be.”
Pickler then made a formal motion for the board to delay voting on the plan, pending “a more thought-out public process.”
Board chairman Woods asked if there was a second, and there was none — a fact causing several of the Germantown advocates in the audience, who had applauded Pickler lustily, to gasp or cry out in disbelief.
The reason would be made obvious when, after a ritual endorsement of “a very thoughtful resolution” by Memphis board member Teresa Jones, Bartlett member David Reaves, in a regretful but firm manner, lowered the boom. “In the north…most of the people like this deal,” he said. “I sympathize, but I represent the north.”
In a concession to Germantown sensiibilties, Reaves did move to divide the board’s voting on the plan six ways, city by city. That motion failed 5-2, with only Reaves and Pickler voting for it.
Before the board’s vote on the Hopson resolution, former board chairman Billy Orgel, who had been honored earlier for his service during the board’s 23-member transitional phase, said he thought the Hopson plan would hasten a mutually agreeable resolution of the whole merger controversy. (Unmentioned Monday night was the fact of the ongoing County Commission litigation against the municipalities’ school plans, still unsettled.)
Optional status for Germantown schools
Chairman Kevin Woods then posed a series of rhetorical questions to Hopson and attorney Speakman, addressing potentially contentious parts of the plan. That gave the superintendent the opportunity to note that the district would treat all three Germantown institutions as optional schools and that the staff and teachers at each would likely remain in place. For her part, Speakman affirmed that it was by no means unprecedented for schools within municipalities to function as parts of extraneous systems.
Pickler won one tenuous concession from Hopson — the superintendent’s somewhat tepid acknowledgement that theoretically the board, during negotiation, could consider revising the question of Germantown’s schools. The board then voted on Hopson’s plan, endorsing it 5-1-1, with Pickler the only no vote and Reaves politely abstaining.
In a colloquy with reporters later on, Goldsworthy talked of convening her lawyers and trying again to get public discussions on modification of the Hopson plan. She had no ready answer when asked if there was any legal alternative to acceptance of the board’s will. Asked if her city could run a viable school system minus the three affected schools and the state funding destined for students in the adjoining unincorporated area, she gamely suggested that, come what may, Germantown would succeed with its system.
Asked if there was any reason other than logistical for her city’s bearing the brunt of sacrifice in the Hopson plan, Goldsworthy only smiled cryptically. When her interviewer suggested he couldn’t interpret a smile, she answered, “Oh yes, you can.”
Hopson’s plan is based on the assumptions(1) that possession is nine-tenths of the law and that the SCS board is the legal owner of all of the county’s buildings) and (2) that the unified county board is required by state law to teach all students not otherwise accounted for in a school district. Under the plan, students in the county’s unincorporated areas would be the responsibility of SCS, and, as a corollary to that, three Germantown schools and one in Millington would remain in the unified system.
Clearly, the superintendent’s wish to see to the long-term solvency of the unified SCS was a major factor in his thinking. Each student from an unincorporated area brings ADA (Average Daily Attendance) allotments from the state, and partisans of the unified district contend that the new municipal system would at some point become unwilling to cater to these students as their facilities filled up, putting the issue of potential and costly new construction front and center.
The plan seemed to suit a majority of the seven-member SCS board, which will formally vote on it Monday night, and it met with preliminary approval from several municipal mayors, who were gratified that their claim on school properties has at last been acknowledged.
But Germantown mayor Sharon Goldsworthy heatedly objects to the inclusion of Germantown Elementary, Germantown Middle, and Germantown High School within SCS’s purview — their inclusion based on the fact that all these schools, like Lucy Elementary in Millington, comprise a student majority from unincorporated areas.The kind of united front that in the past has led to legislative action on behalf of the suburbs in Nashville, however, has apparently been broken
If the plan passes muster with the board on Monday night, the stage is set for action on costing out the transfer of school properties. The board is thought to prefer a lease agreement with the municipalities at something well above a token rate.
Before the board meets on Monday, the Shelby County Commission will probably have considered a motion by suburban Republican member Chris Thomas to drop the current litigation against the municipalities on grounds that it is now irrelevant, but that is not likely to happen until a final agreement is signed and sealed.
Thomas’ motion was discussed by the Commission’s general government committee on Wednesday and was objeccted to a an apparent majority of those present. And a majority of 7 members — six Democrats and Republican Mike Ritz — seem destined to oppose it if is placed on the agenda. Commission chairman James Harvey, also a Democrat, may vote with Thomas and four other Republicans to sustain it.
The remaining active portion of the litigation concerns the Commission argument that creation of suburban municipal-school systems in Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Arlington, Lakeland, and Millington will foster re-segregation and is thereby unconstitutional.
Thomas premises his resolution on the theory that the SCS board has indicated its decision on remaining aspects of the school-merger controversy would not be based on the resegregation claim. Sources in the Commission majority, however, see that aspect of litigation as leverage as negotiation wend their way to a result and express the view that abandonment of if would be a premature folly.
Presiding federal judge Hardy Mays has granted a fresh 60-day extension of his working deadline to see an agreement reached.
Meanwhile, school board elections will be held in several of the suburbs on Thusday, November 7. [Note: Election date corrected from earlier version of post].
Said THRC executive director Beverly L Watts: "During this year of recognizing civil rights advocates throughout the state, the 50th Anniversary co-chairs and I realized Jocelyn Wurzburg embodies civil rights ideals, principles and dedication to equality. This award, the Jocelyn D. Wurzburg Civil Rights Legacy Award, was presented to Jocelyn D. Wurzburg for her specific contributions to the Commission and her dedication to equality. The Board will present this award at its discretion to those who embody the dedication to equality.”
Wurzburg was originally appointed to the THRC in 1971 by Gov. Winfield Dunn and was re-appointed in 2007 by Gov. Phil Bredesen. She authored the1978 legislation that became the Tennessee Human Rights Act. The act transformed the Commission from an advisory organization to one with powers to investigate, conciliate and litigate claims of discrimination.
A pioneer also in the process of mediation process, Wurzbug was originally appointed to the THRC in 1971 by Gov. Winfield Dunn and re-appointed in 2007 by Gov. Phil Bredesen. She authored the1978 legislation that became the Tennessee Human Rights Act and transformed the Commission from an advisory organization to one with powers to investigate, conciliate and litigate claims of discrimination.
She was also appointed by President Gerald R. Ford to the International Women’s Year commission in 1975 and brought the Panel of American Women to Memphis to confront racial and religious prejudice in the aftermath of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.
An independent state agency, the THRC is responsible for enforcing the Tennessee Human Rights Act as well as the Tennessee Disability Act which prohibits discrimination based on race, creed, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, age (40 and over in employment), familial status (housing only) and retaliation in employment, housing and public accommodations.