City Reporter 

City Reporter

Expensive Error

Report costs schools $1.5 million and one employee his job.

By Mary Cashiola

The Memphis City Schools system faces a "pretty significant penalty" from the Tennessee Department of Education, a spokesperson told the Flyer Monday.

Because of deficiencies in the system's report, the district faces almost $1.5 million in state fines. As a result, Superintendent Johnnie B. Watson has accepted the resignation of Ricks Mason and handed out two suspensions, one to Associate Superintendent Bob Archer. The report makes sure schools are not overcrowded or using unlicensed teachers.

"Memphis was basically fined for two things," says Judith Morgan, spokesperson for the state department. "Failure to meet reporting deadlines was one. The larger portion of the fine was for teacher-licensure noncompliance."

The due date for the preliminary report was November 1, 2001. Morgan says she does not know exactly how late Memphis sent in the report, but it was after the deadline.

"There was a letter sent out April 30th of last year in which we clearly delineated the process and the financial penalties," says Morgan. "Then, a week before the reports were due, every school system that was having trouble received a courtesy phone call reminding them of the deadline. This shouldn't have caught anyone by surprise."

Watson says that the problem was not a result of any one office.

"A lot of people are involved in the process of getting this report in," he says. "A school system this size can expect some penalties, but I was unaware the penalties were this excessive."

In response, Watson took immediate "strong disciplinary actions," including accepting the resignation of Ricks Mason, the executive director of personnel, as well as suspending Bob Archer, associate superintendent of school administration and student support, for two days without pay and David Sojourner, director of student information, for five days without pay.

The district was fined $3,500 for failure to report the class size in seven schools by the given deadline and $262,500 for failure to meet reporting deadlines in general.

The district was also fined $1,212,500 for teacher-licensure noncompliance. These penalties were due to: 1) teachers whose licenses had expired and who had not renewed their licenses or requested a renewal by November 1st; 2) teachers who were teaching outside their licensed subject area and hadn't requested a waiver; and 3) teachers who had no license of any kind and hadn't requested an interim license or permit.

"Let me say up-front that as long as the school systems had begun the process by November 1st, we didn't penalize them. Only if absolutely nothing was done, that's when they were fined," says Morgan. "We just want to make sure that [teachers] have the appropriate documentation so we know they're allowed to be in the classroom," she says.

Morgan didn't know how many school systems were hit with penalties. The fines will be taken out of each school system's April Basic Education Program payments from the state.

Calling the situation "unacceptable," Watson says, "I hope this sends a message throughout the district that all levels of personnel will be held accountable."


Are You Ready To Rumble?

Tyson/Lewis fight-promoters tour city.

By Rebekah Gleaves

"They really had no idea of what we have to offer a fighter of this magnitude before they came here," says local businessman Joe Cooper, who on Monday night gave a tour of Memphis to Shelly Finkel, Mike Tyson's adviser, and Gary Shaw, chief operating officer of Main Events, the company that promotes boxer Lennox Lewis. Cooper says he flew to Atlanta to pick up the two and then gave them a tour of the city and of Tunica's Horseshoe Casino -- a tour that lasted until 2 a.m.

Cooper, Nashville-based promoter Brian Young, state Representative Joe Towns Jr., and Memphis developer Rusty Hyneman have been trying to woo the two fighters' camps into selecting Memphis as the site of the Tyson/Lewis fight on June 8th.

"They were really impressed with the city and really impressed with Beale Street. I'm about 500 percent certain that we'll get this fight," says Cooper.

According to Cooper, Finkel and Shaw agreed to make a final decision by Friday but planned for Tyson to get a license in Washington, D.C., anyway "as a back-up city."

"This will be the biggest thing to hit here -- ever," says Cooper.

Finkel and Shaw told Cooper to expect about 500 reporters from all over the world and that this fight would likely be the most-watched Pay-Per-View event ever broadcast. Cooper says they also told him to expect $40 million to $50 million to be pumped into the local economy as a result of the match.

As part of their visit, the two spoke by phone with Mayor Willie Herenton, who allegedly told them the city of Memphis was 100 percent behind the fight. Finkel and Shaw also looked at the seating chart for Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, a venue Cooper says intrigued them because of its larger seating capacity.

"They've asked for a schematic of the infield, where the ring and the ringside seats will go. The Liberty Bowl certainly has more to offer in terms of economy-priced seating, but it also poses different challenges," says Cooper, who says they planned to tour The Pyramid on Tuesday before flying back to New York.

In order for Memphis to get the fight, the local promoter, Nashville-based Brian Young, must put up $12.5 million. Last week, Representative Towns told the Flyer that "$12 million to $15 million" has already been put into a letter of credit by the promoter.

"I'm predicting Memphis," says Cooper, "and I say we call it 'The Rumble On the River.'"


Christal's Update

Judge sets new hearing for adult-novelty store.

By Rebekah Gleaves

It's a war about sex that has nothing to do with gender. Last Friday, Circuit Court judge James Russell set a hearing date of April 5th for Christal's, the embattled chain of adult-novelty stores attempting to open another Memphis-area store at 975 N. Germantown Parkway in Cordova.

According to Christal's attorney Michael Pleasants, the hearing will be on the store's motion to amend Russell's January 2nd judgment. Russell last ruled in favor of the city of Memphis, saying that the store did not meet the city's definition of "adult novelty."

At issue were nine empty display cases that codes administrators feared would eventually be stocked with sexually explicit items, violating the city's definition of "retail" establishment. Stores with more than 5 percent adult merchandise are considered "adult entertainment," not retail establishments, and the Germantown Parkway location is not zoned for adult entertainment.

"The hearing will be on the motion to amend the judgment, saying that the nine empty shelves they were concerned with have been stocked with appropriate material," says Pleasants.

A ruling in favor of Christal's would mean the store, which has been stocked, staffed, and ready to open since mid-December, can open for business.


A Runaway Or Worse?

Mother searches for missing 17-year-old daughter.

By Rebekah Gleaves

Hazel Morgan is living every parent's nightmare. On November 20, 2001, her 17-year-old daughter, Erica Morgan-Shoemake, disappeared. The Central High School student has not been seen or heard from since then. Morgan says that when she got home from work Erica's room had been emptied and Erica was gone, without leaving any sort of message.

"It's just totally out of character for her. She hasn't even talked to any of her friends," says Morgan, "and she's been friends with some of them since grade school."

After Erica's disappearance, some of her friends came to Morgan with details about the young girl's secret life. They told the mother that Erica had recently been hanging out with her 22-year-old boyfriend and his 32-year-old ex-girlfriend. Erica met the man while the two were working together in Peabody Place. When she began dating him, Erica supposedly told Morgan that he was 18 years old -- not 22 -- and that the other woman was actually his mother.

Morgan believes that Erica may have been staying with several other adults in a home in Tipton County, but police officers have not found her there. Morgan also believes that the boyfriend may know how to find Erica but says he has been totally uncooperative with her and with the police.

"She just needs to understand that no matter what has happened, no matter what has gone wrong, she can come home. Or just call home," says Morgan. "I'm just trying to have a whole lot of faith that nothing has gone wrong."

Anyone who has seen Erica or knows of her whereabouts should call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 or the Memphis Police Department at 901-373-3883.

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