City Reporter 

City Reporter

City Schools Switch Information Systems

Memphis City Schools associate superintendent Bob Archer and his staff have settled on a take-no-prisoners approach for the district's new computer system. It needs to be ready by August 2001 and he says it will be.

WinSchool, the new student information system that has been allocated $12.7 million for software, hardware, training, and support, replaces OSIRIS, the DOS-based operating system the district has been using for more than 15 years. At a Board of Education meeting April 2nd, OSIRIS was said to be awkward and currently on life support, having been upgraded several times over the years.

The state is requiring that school systems have an operating system in place by August that is able to send data such as attendance information, class size, and teacher certifications. OSIRIS lacks those capabilities.

But Archer cautions against saying the state is the reason for the switch.

"The first priority is for the district to have a working student managing system," says Archer. "Just because we had to do the state reports is not why we bought it. It's because OSIRIS had become obsolete."

Not only does it lack the ability to transfer student data even between schools in the district, but NCS Pearson, the company that recently bought OSIRIS, has stopped supporting the version that MCS has in place.

After looking at several options, including designing their own system, the MCS staff decided it could not be done in time to meet the August deadline. When superintendent Johnnie Watson took over last spring on an interim basis, funding was being identified, but the project itself had not yet begun.

The data requested by the state, attendance figures in particular, will be used to determine funding for the district, making meeting the August deadline crucial. The data will also be used to decide if the school systems are in compliance on issues like class size and teacher certifications. If they violate state-set guidelines, school systems can lose funding.

But the system will be ready. Archer says they are currently on schedule and plan to stay that way.

At the April 2nd board meeting, commissioners worried that the computer might not be ready in time and asked Archer what the district's plan B was. Archer replied: "Well, paper, but like I said, that's not an option."

Twelve pilot schools will be sending the information to the state later this spring. It remains to be seen if the state's system will be able to handle it. -- Mary Cashiola

Despite Rezoning, Cordova Winery Says It Won't Close

After submitting a controversial rezoning plan to the Shelby County Commission, Cordova Cellars is seeing an unexpected development.

"People keep coming up to me and saying, 'I'm so sorry the winery is closing,'" says owner Mary Birks.

But the winery, which applied for rezoning from agricultural use last September, is not closing. Nor, says Birks, is the land scheduled to be developed anytime soon.

"We're not planning on development right now," says Birks. "We just wanted to have a plan drawn up so when the time came ..."

After rezoning, the winery land could be used for single-family residences, apartment complexes, and commercial buildings. That plan drew complaints from local community members because of the increased number of students it would bring to already-full schools.

"We're preparing for the future," says Birks. "I wouldn't have processed all the grapes I did last year if we were closing this month."

Although the winery used to grow its own grapes, the vines were pulled out three years ago because of disease. Now the grapes come from Middle Tennessee, Arkansas, and Washington state.

According to Birks, the new plan does not encompass the winery itself and tries to take into account the surrounding zoning: large residential lots, commercial buildings, and some light industrial across the street.

"Things are being built up so much around us. [Development is] inevitable down the line," says Birks. "Right now we're like this little island."

-- Mary Cashiola

Women's Football Comes To Memphis

Not as publicized as Memphis' other new professional sports leagues, the Memphis Maulers -- a team organizing to play in the Independent Women's Football League (IWFL) -- are holding tryouts at East High School on Poplar Avenue.

The IWFL is a nonprofit organization, with each team under independent ownership and management. The fledgling IWFL hopes to gain status among its sister leagues: the National Women's Football League, the Women's Professional Football League, and the Women's American Football League. Unlike those leagues, the IWFL does not require a large franchise fee to start a team. The IWFL adheres to NFL tackle football rules but uses a slightly smaller football. A complete physical, including a pregnancy exam, is required of each player.

The Memphis Maulers join a league currently consisting of five teams, with two other teams at the organizational stage as well. The regular season of the IWFL began on March 31st and the first game will be played in Memphis on May 5th, with the Maulers facing the Austin Outlaws. According to Maulers general manager Tiffany Ross, the season will run until July 14th this year, but the first season will consist only of scrimmages played on local fields.

The IWFL will charge for admission, with proceeds going to team operations and then to local community organizations. A portion of the gate proceeds from each game will go to a local charity. For more information on tryouts, contact Ross at 458-0828. -- Emily Bays

Public Works Makes Pothole Promise

Tired of hitting the same pothole day after day? You're in luck. The Department of Public Works is at your service, backed by a guarantee, no less. If you report the location of a pothole before noon and it's not fixed by 5 p.m. that same day, you get to name that pothole.

Potholes are the unfortunate result of a cold and wet winter, explains Jerry Collins, director of public works. This past winter was especially bad.

On the first day of the challenge, Collins says 625 potholes were reported, resulting in a number of potholes receiving names that day. But one day recently, 101 potholes were reported and all of them were filled.

"We're trying to exceed customer expectations," explains Collins. "If we don't, call us and we'll do whatever we can to meet their needs." To report a pothole, call 528-2911 and leave a good description of the location, ideally the street address nearest to the pothole. The challenge is only good for reports received any weekday before noon. -- Emily Bays

TennCare Report Card Shows Deficiencies

The Comptroller of the Treasury Department of Tennessee issued a yearly assessment of the TennCare program on March 30th. Its major findings pointed fingers at TennCare's leadership, undersized staff, mismanaged information control, and lack of self-monitoring practices.

The TennCare program includes nearly 3 million Tennesseans who would not otherwise benefit from medical insurance since Tennessee formally withdrew from Medicare in 1994, a historic move at the time. According to this most recent audit, the program "lacks stable leadership." In its seven-year history, the program has had five directors and two acting directors. There has also been significant turnover in other top divisions such as the operations, budget, and finance. During the 1999-2000 fiscal year, the program saw four top administrators resign, including program director Brian Lapps.

In addition to unstable leadership, the report says that TennCare has "inadequate system and staff resources," that the computer information processing system is "complex ... outdated and inflexible," and that "the TennCare program is understaffed." In one instance, the audit notes that the program's Division of Programs is staffed by only one person despite the division's responsibility for "the provision of special services to children and seriously mentally ill individuals." A recent Associated Press story reported that many mentally ill Tennesseans were hospitalized for too long or that they were jailed unnecessarily due to the lack of management by the TennCare system.

Also according to the audit, TennCare showed a history of "inadequate monitoring," since the program lacks the ability to monitor itself, and that TennCare "once again did not adequately monitor the internal operations of the Bureau."

In a written response included in the audit, the TennCare management agreed with the conclusions, stating that measures have been taken to improve these issues, though those changes might take time. In TennCare's defense, the response reads, "It must be recognized that major improvements in such a large and complex program cannot be accomplished in just a few months, and it must be recognized that work on program improvements is made even more challenging by the constantly changing landscape of TennCare [including] health plans coming into and out of the program, court actions, provider concerns, etc. We believe the activities of the past year have helped us move forward." Those activities include the hiring of new director Mark Reynolds and the hiring of a manager of personnel who is addressing the lack of staff in some areas and the mismanagement of personnel in others. Manage-ment's response also included the establishment of an on-site auditing office with 24 hired auditors. -- Chris Przybyszewski

STCC Searches For New President

With 29 applicants in the pool, the presidential search advisory committee for Southwest Tennessee Community College will begin the process of picking one on Wednesday, April 11th.

The search committee is scheduled to meet for the first time that morning and decide on a process to evaluate the candidates, as well as a schedule for future meetings.

Two of STCC's current administrators are vying for the position as the school's first permanent president: interim president Nathan L. Essex and executive director of transition F. Ercille Hall Williams. Other candidates include a vice president for student affairs at Rutgers University, a senior fellow at the University of Kentucky at Lexington, and presidents from community colleges around the country.

A Tennessee Board of Regents staff member says that usually the search committee meets and reduces the number of candidates to about 10 based on the candidates' résumés, then conducts phone interviews to reduce the number to five. The remaining candidates are then invited to the campus to meet with the community.

Currently, the search is still open to other candidates. -- Mary Cashiola

Developer Sues Revelation Corporation

Not everyone gets to ride on Rusty Hyneman's plane for free.

The developer filed a lawsuit in Chancery Court last week alleging that John Lowery and Lowery's Revelation Corporation owe him more than $56,000. According to the complaint from Hyneman, who could not be reached for this story, the debt was incurred after Lowery contracted to use Hyneman's private jet and pilots in the spring of 1999 and then did not pay for the services.

Revelation Corporation is a privately owned, for-profit corporation headquartered in Memphis whose owners include five of the largest African-American church denominations in the United States. The organization is similar to a goods and services buying club for its African-American and Hispanic members.

Lowery, who heads the organization, does not deny that Revelation Corporation owes the money.

"We do absolutely acknowledge the debt," says Lowery. "We hope to pay it in full before we go to court."

Revelation Corporation, also known as Revelation America, chartered the plane to take several staff members on eight business trips. Lowery says that when arranging travel for a number of people, it is less expensive to charter a plane than to buy commercial airline tickets for everyone.

He says his organization fell on hard times after a partner in a credit card venture filed bankruptcy.

"We're just a start-up company," says Lowery. "We had an interruption in our cash flow because of our credit card business. I do expect us to be caught up enough to pay this debt in full before we have to go to court."

He also acknowledged that another, similar lawsuit has been filed by WBT Media. According to Lowery, Revelation Corporation contracted to buy advertising time from the company and then did not pay for the advertisements.

Hyneman is also asking that 18 percent interest be added to the $56,426.25 Revelation Corporation owes and that the company pay all costs associated with the collection of the debt. -- Rebekah Gleaves

Groups Push For More Recycled Paper from Staples, IP

At 100 Staples stores across the country, protesters gathered last week to call attention to the impact paper production is having on Southeastern forests. While there are no branches of the nation's largest office supply chain in the Memphis area, International Paper, the world's largest timber company, is the largest provider of paper to Staples, meaning much of our region's timber goes to the 1,125 Staples stores around the world.

"The expansion of the paper industry across Tennessee and throughout the Southern U.S. has resulted in unprecedented levels of clear-cutting and the conversion of native forests to pine plantations," says David Heeks, Tennessee organizer for the Dogwood Alliance, a Southeastern environmental group.

The Dogwood Alliance and other environmental groups across the nation are calling on Staples and IP to provide more recycled paper products in an effort to preserve Southeastern forests.

Carl Gagliardi, director of environmental business services for IP, says his company provides Staples with many recycled products and that all the wood fiber in their office paper comes from sustainable managed plantations or second- or third-growth forests in the Southeast.

Though not blaming IP directly, Heeks says he has too often seen Southeastern forests destroyed and replaced with pine plantations. Heeks says one county in Tennessee had 12 percent of its native hardwood habitat cleared for pine plantations in a period of just 18 years.

Staples is working to provide more recycled products, says Tom Nutile, Staples vice president of public relations, and he says they are being unfairly targeted simply because of their size.

As was done successfully against Lowe's, the nation's largest hardware store, Heeks says environmental protesters are targeting the top chain in a wasteful industry to pressure their suppliers to increase the use of recycled goods industrywide. -- Andrew Wilkins

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