By Tony Jones
The Shelby County Commission has approved a request by Shelby County Assessor Rita Clark to expand the budget for the Geographic Information System (GIS) so it can be linked to a statewide digital mapping system. The resulting upgrade will provide 10 levels of 3-D mapping linking the county to the statewide system by parcel, down to water lines and curbs.
Used following the September 11th attack on New York, the system can provide emergency teams with instant depictions of areas unfamiliar to them. Says Clark, "For example, in a major disaster, it would be important to know where the water lines are. We can provide it in accurate detail, and give them a detailed map automatically."
Through a bill co-sponsored by state Senator Roscoe Dixon (D-33), 75 percent of the budget, $4 million, will be paid for by the state. The assessor's office will provide $1 million, and the county's 25 percent share is estimated at over $1.3 million.
Clark had to get the commission's approval to combine the costs of three budgeted positions to pay for the upgrade, which she touts as the greatest government tool since the pen. She praises the system's programmer, Lema Kebede, as her office's personal Einstein.
"We weren't really making progress until Lema came in and developed quality-assurance and quality-control models," she says.
An exchange student from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Kebede's system customization incorporates rail lines, hospitals, libraries, churches, and more. It took a couple of years to convert the paper records to the electronic system, which Kebede then customized for the assessor's office use.
"We update daily, so we have the only accurate and up-to-date computerized database of parcels in the county," says Kebede.
MLGW has a similar system that provides address information, Clark adds. The two offices work jointly to keep GIS accurate.
Patrick Lefferty, director of assessment services, displays a model community graphic depicting how the assessor's office's particular system adds value for the average citizen by keeping appraisals more honest. He shows a small graphic of a new development adjacent to a widespread, less costly area. Using the market-value criteria that are based upon area sales figures, a shrewd developer or property owner could fudge on their taxes by using the sales rates of the surrounding area. GIS prevents stretching or fudging on value through accurate placement of properties.
Finance director Bob Tamboli says GIS has cut overtime 44 percent and reduced reappraisals from 35,000 for the 1996 appraisal to 25,000 requests resulting from the year 2000 assessments. Appraisals take place every four years.
Perhaps the most impressive display was the intricate dot-matrix blowup of a city section depicting the possible contamination of lead-based paint in housing built before 1950 "that we did as a favor to the health department," Clark explains. "Lema's program identified them all and their placement."
The blowup displays each home as a separate dot, masses concentrated in older sections of the city. The office can then identify the house's data, "which we could never have done before."
"A representative from the Hispanic community called us and asked could we help them find a soccer field they could purchase because renting playing space is so high. We were able to find available sites throughout the county, identify the property owners, and give them the info in no time at all."
By Rebekah Gleaves
Christal's, the controversial adult novelty chain of stores, seems to have given up on making friends in Cordova and decided to just sue. Last week the Colorado-based company filed a lawsuit against the city of Memphis in Circuit Court in an effort to open a store on Germantown Parkway.
Dave Noblitt, vice president of the parent company that owns Christal's, contacted the Flyer this week, saying, "We are asking the court to force the city to give us an occupancy permit. We just want to open."
According to Noblitt, Christal's is asking that the court issue a temporary injunction allowing the store to open prior to the issuance of the occupancy permit.
"We feel confident the store will open if the city will work with us," says Noblitt.
On November 28th, inspectors with the city's construction code-enforcement office denied Christal's an occupancy permit, saying that the store's inventory was more than 5 percent "adult novelty" and as such the store was not permitted in the Cordova area.
"Based on what we saw, we got a different opinion of what they were selling," Allen Medlock, deputy administrator for the code-enforcement agency, said last week.
Noblitt says that after the November 28th inspection, Christal's employees worked to get the store within the parameters of a "retail" establishment.
"When [the code inspectors] left, we rearranged the store and removed some of the merchandise from the floor. Then we asked them to come back and reinspect," says Noblitt. "At that point they just said, 'You need to call your attorney.'"
Telephone calls to the city attorney's office went unanswered on Tuesday.
Residents, merchants, and politicians in the Cordova area have been vocal in their opposition to the Christal's store. One merchant, Wayne Dowdle of Dowdle Sporting Goods, says that he plans to "make it tough for them to do business." He says his customers have even offered to take pictures of customers entering and leaving Christal's and of their cars and license plates.
In the meantime, the store is full of merchandise, a sign bearing the name "Christal's" hangs over the front windows, and Christal's employees sit ready and waiting for permission to open. Noblitt says that Christal's is bound to the lease terms for the retail space despite not being allowed to open.
"When you sign a lease, you're bound," says Noblitt. "We still have to pay our rent, even if we aren't open. I don't even want to think about what will happen if we are not issued a permit."
By Mary Cashiola
It seems Memphis City Schools officials were right when they thought their scores on the state-issued system report card couldn't possibly be right. That is, at least in social studies.
The state board of education released updated school and system report cards Monday after a mistake was found that affected a number of elementary school social studies grades.
Of the 140 elementary schools whose grades changed, eight were from Memphis City Schools and four were from Shelby County.
"It was an unbelievably simple mistake," says Dr. Ben Brown of the state Department of Education. In doing the three-year value-added averages, the grade should have been compiled from the 1999, 2000, and 2001 data.
"The 2000 data was inadvertently left out and the 2001 data was used twice. Luckily it was only that one subject area," says Brown.
In Memphis, Balmoral, Grahamwood, Peabody, Oak Forest, and Macon elementary schools and Kirby Middle School each went up a letter grade. The change gave Grahamwood an A, while the rest of the schools stayed in the C and D range. Barret's Chapel, Southwind, and Germantown elementaries in the Shelby County school district were also raised one letter grade. "Many systems around the state had one school affected; a few had zero," says Brown. "Many of the schools were right on the edge of a change in their grade."
Caldwell and Sea Isle elementaries in the city system and Rivercrest in the county all dropped a letter grade to the C or D range because of the corrected data. The grades that went up have already been posted on the department's Web site (www.state.tn.us/education); the lowered grades have not yet been formally published.
"Social studies and science are used for accountability measures," says Brown. "That change will be reflected."
Each of the school systems affected was notified via a letter, as was each of the principals of the individual affected schools.
By Mary Cashiola
Memphis and surrounding areas may have to worry about teacher quantity but, ideally, shouldn't have to worry about teacher quality.
The University of Memphis' College of Education earned full accreditation last week. Evaluated by an on-site team from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the school was found, for the second time, to have no weaknesses. And this time the education program was piloting new standards set by NCATE last year.
"The new standards are more rigorous in terms of performance outcomes," says John Schifani, dean of the College of Education.
The six new areas that the team examined were candidate knowledge, the college's assessment system, students' field experiences, diversity, faculty qualifications, and the school's governance and resources.
The NCATE team spent five days visiting classrooms of student teachers and graduates of the program, meeting with the university's administration, as well as professionals from nearby school systems and civic leaders, and looking through documentation the school keeps on its standards.
"You don't just dress up one day for the visiting team," says Schifani. He also says that the school would be out of business without full accreditation.
"We wouldn't be able to recommend to the state department that teacher X is ready to teach in a school," he says. The accreditation also gives student teachers a sort of national endorsement that allows them to teach in most states without having to go through that state's individual teaching certification.
"We had no weaknesses," says Schifani. "We're very proud of that."
More than 30 percent of the schools that apply for NCATE accreditation are denied; on a national average the program usually detects one or more weaknesses found.