City Reporter 

City Reporter

Converting to Charters

MCS conference will discuss forming new schools.

By Mary Cashiola

With the application deadline for charter schools approaching, the Memphis City Schools (MCS) board is talking about how to proceed.

The board has scheduled a conference early next week to talk about the possibility of charter schools in Memphis. The state enacted the Tennessee Charter Schools Act last July, meaning the first public charter schools could be open by the next school year.

"It's actually too late for conversion schools this year," said Thelma Crivens, MCS coordinator of grants and policy development, "but there could be newly enacted charter schools."

Groups wanting to start a new charter school must have their application turned in to both the district and the state by November 15th. The district has not received any applications so far, but that doesn't mean they won't.

"Certainly, people have asked questions about it; people are interested in charter schools," said Crivens, "but I can't say any organization or group is definitely going to apply."

Under the law, charter schools are seen as remedies for students who are currently in low-performing schools.

In conversion charters, a public school is converted to a charter school when 60 percent of teachers and parents vote to do so or when the superintendent and the board initiate the change. Crivens said that because of the organizing needed for that to take place, there just isn't time to see a conversion school for next year. The other option is for a group to open an entirely new charter school.

Groups applying to open charter schools have to discuss their mission statement, curriculum, physical plant, transportation, and even the food they serve the students. "They have to show in their application that they really are prepared to start a school," said Crivens.

MCS board members were recently given a draft of the district's new charter-schools policy. Crivens said the district policy follows the law: "It's the board's job to approve the applications, but I'm sure they will be reviewed by both the staff and the board." The board and staff will discuss the policy next Monday before the board meeting.

In their discussions, the school board will have to look at some administrative dilemmas, such as whether a student who is going to a charter school can reenroll in the district midway through the school year, and if so, where he or she would go.

"There are a lot of questions," said Crivens. "There are issues that are not resolved in the law and that won't be resolved in this policy."

Radio Wars

Talk-show hosts have harsh words for Democratic Party.

By Janel Davis

Thaddeus Matthews has never kept his opinions to himself. Since his radio rebirth this year, the talk-show host has unceasingly broadcast his disdain for the Shelby County Democratic Party, its effectiveness, and its leadership, thereby angering many of the city's political leaders.

Matthews' show Express Yourself on Flinn Broadcasting's WTCK AM-1210 is, in his opinion, all about informing the public, specifically African Americans, of their rights as voters and the need for candidate accountability. "One of my strongest statements on the air is that 'the black politician or leader who is not working for the betterment of African Americans is more dangerous to us than any white politician could ever be,'" said Matthews. "We have a dumbing-down from our politicians. We only see them when they want to be elected ... and that's the large majority of our leadership. They come, they beg for our vote and for our money, then, once elected, they forget about the people who placed them there."

The daily program, which airs from noon to 2 p.m., has broached topics that Matthews says are not popular in the black community, such as allowing convicted criminals and recovering drug offenders to be reelected to public office. He cites the reelections of city councilman Rickey Peete after his conviction for taking bribes and county commissioner Michael Hooks after admitting to drug addiction. "I think that a lot of our black leadership has built their prominence on the backs of economically depressed people," said Matthews. "Most radio talk-show hosts, black anyway, will not say that, whether for fear of retaliation or whether they too are a part of the network."

But not everyone is a fan of Matthews' "truth in politics" broadcasting. Shelby County Democratic Party chairman Gale Jones Carson called Matthews' tactics "pitiful." Although she has never heard of Matthews or his program, she said his accusations are baseless. "[Matthews] can think what he wants to, but he should just ask the 16 Democratic candidates who ran August 1st. Get their opinion on the Democratic Party and how effective we were," she said. "This man needs to talk to some of the candidates before he gets on the air making blanket statements that he can't back up. Who even listens to 1210? ... He probably won't be on long this time either. People have a right to their opinion, but they ought to be based on facts, and his are not based on facts."

During her tenure as chairman, Carson said the party has raised more than $100,000 and run a coordinated campaign for 16 candidates. As a result, she said more African Americans voted in the August election than in any election in the previous five years. "Our candidates may not have won in the numbers that we would have liked them to, but they were closer than they have ever been before. Fifty-three percent of voters in August were Democrats," she said. "If all the Democrats who had voted had voted the straight party line, all of our countywide candidates would have won. We ran our coordinated campaign unlike we've ever done before."

Matthews is no newcomer to the radio arena. A lifelong Memphian and assistant pastor of a Whitehaven-area church, he began his radio career in 1985. He became known for his "shock jock" manner and shows with no topic off-limits. A 1993 show on bestiality ended his run on another Memphis station until his return three years ago. That show was canceled due to political content. This time, Matthews is taking no chances. Express Yourself has a solid, one-year contract and is self-financed, with Matthews selling his own advertising. "I think there needs to be someone on the air that is an advocate," he says.

Matthews has been joined by another self-proclaimed people's advocate, Jennings Bernard. Bernard, a long-time candidate for various Shelby County offices, is hosting his own program, following Matthews' slot. Bernard's Real Talk airs daily from 2 to 3 p.m. The program follows Bernard's infamous "Democratic Crackhead" phone line instituted after the August election. It contains a recorded message referring to various Shelby County politicians. The message tells callers that the Democratic Party will accept "crackheads," "thie[ves]," and "drug addicts" for the offices of city councilman, county commissioner, and county clerk. Callers are then asked to leave their "crackhead phone number."

"I looked at some of our elected and selected officials, and I began to wonder about their principles and those by which I was taught. Did they mean anything?" said Bernard. "The only way that I could bring attention to the situation and the principles that I was taught was through the 'Democratic Crackhead' number, to allow the people to know who they are selecting. In an imperfect world, we need to see as much righteousness as possible so we can send a message to young people who will one day seek to be Shelby County leaders. When you say that you can betray the voters' confidence and they will still reelect you, that's sending the wrong message."

Janis Fullilove, Bernard's county clerk opponent in the Democratic primary, considers the phone line offensive. "I was very offended because he makes reference to me as being a dope addict," she said. "I considered going to an attorney to bring slander [charges], but then I just dropped it. If he has any anger, it should be against the people who voted, not me." Fullilove, who is also the talk-show host of WDIA's Janis Fullilove Unleashed, denied alleged threats made against Bernard and also denied verbal retaliation of Matthews on her show, stating that her only target is fellow talk-show host Mike Fleming of WREC.

She and Carson agree. "Statements like these do not hurt the Democratic Party. They just make the person appear small-minded because polls now show that negative campaigning is not liked by voters," said Fullilove. "I'm sure if you look in the background of a Thaddeus Matthews or a Jennings Bernard, they probably have things that they don't want other people to know about either. Like my grandmother always said, the pot can't call the kettle black."

From Miami to Memphis?

Girl’s disappearance is disputed.

By Mary Cashiola

In the case of the missing Miami girl, lost from Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) since last April, the search has taken a weird Memphis turn.
Two Memphis women said to be friends of 6-year-old Rilya Wilson’s caregiver, Geralyn Graham, have contradicted Graham’s story, according to reports in The Miami Herald.
Graham, who is currently being held on fraud charges, has repeatedly said that a woman who claimed to be with the DCF office picked Wilson up in January 2001 for testing. DCF denies sending anyone, and the girl has not been seen since.
Memphis residents Bonnie Joyner and Rosaline McGee did not corroborate Graham’s story. Graham is charged with using Joyner’s identification and credit history to buy a car. She told investigators she had Joyner’s permission. According to the Herald, Joyner says she did not.
McGee told investigators that Graham said she had given Rilya back to DCF because of the child’s behavior; McGee says she was given some of Rilya’s toys to give to her own grandchildren.
Representatives with the media-relations department of the Miami Dade Police Department, contacted early this week, said the case is an open investigation. They could not confirm who was interviewed, how the Memphis connection came to light, or whether or not there was a possibility Rilya could be in Memphis.
Neither McGee nor Joyner could be reached for this story.


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