Monday, February 7, 2011

Germantown: Your Turn on Schools

Posted By on Mon, Feb 7, 2011 at 11:46 AM

David Pickler
  • David Pickler
This should be good. There's a meeting at Germantown City Hall at 7 p.m. tonight to talk about schools. I don't think they'll be booing David Pickler and Mark Norris.

What snow? As of noon Monday, it was game on. With timely action on a schools bill expected in Nashville today, and possibly some court filings, counter-moves, or shenanigans elsewhere, there will be fresh red meat for a big crowd meeting on its home court in the belly of the beast.

It was a quiet weekend here in Lake Wobegon, also known as Midtown. The Super Bowl took airtime and print space and blogosphere energy from the schools story, which I sense is testing the patience and attention span of everyone involved in it. Sort of like the Black Eyed Peas halftime show.

And I think that is part of the strategy of merger opponents. Killing with delay, kindness, and confusion is a time-tested winner.

That goes for the white men in suits and boots in Nashville who dominate the legislature and the governor's office. As my colleague Jackson Baker has described in detail, Norris brilliantly crafted a bill that can and will be seen as giving away a lot while actually giving away very little, and assuring special school district status for Shelby County down the road, if not sooner.

Delay worked for annexation opponents a few years ago when Memphis was on the verge of taking in Southwind and a bunch of schools in southeastern Shelby County. The neighborhoods avoided higher taxes, and the county school system avoided losing so much of its black population that it's lopsided racial imbalance might have drawn renewed interest from the federal courts. Southwind is supposed to come into the city of Memphis in 2013. Where have we heard that year before? Oh yes, its the year that the city and county school systems will merge in Norris' bill. We'll see.

Delay works for Memphis City Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash. He can never seem to come up with numbers when the media and elected officials need them, whether it's the enrollment, the number of kids who fail to start school until after Labor Day, or the number of pregnant girls at Frayser High School. He talks vaguely about closing some schools, but doesn't look ready to identify specific schools on the chopping block. "Right-sizing" MCS is off the table at least until the referendum.

Last Thursday the Memphis City Council delayed, for a week, finalizing its support of surrendering the MCS charter. Harold Collins was pushing for final action, and when I saw him later that evening at a public meeting at Whitehaven High School he looked visibly distressed at the ability of Norris to persuade some city council members of his honorable intentions.

"Do you really trust him?" he asked me. Hey, I'm the one who gets to ask the questions.

I told Collins I thought he had no choice but to wait, given that five other council members — all the white guys, at that — were going to vote against it. Not a good outcome. Collins glumly agreed. The trouble is that the council's “nuclear” option may now be the nuclear dud. Defused. Outfoxed. Killed with kindness and confusion.

I disagree with some of my media colleagues who suggested that the moratorium on March 8th may be irrelevant. Symbolic is not the same as irrelevant. It is good to engage people, good to know how Memphians feel, good to follow through with what the school board started on December 20th, good to play by the rules. A split vote for surrender on the school board followed by a split vote for surrender on the city council without a referendum would have been a disaster.

Better to keep talking, have the referendum, get a big turnout, see what happens, then argue about what it means.

I ran into civil rights lawyer Richard Fields Saturday. He said he plans to file a lawsuit to enjoin the state from taking any action. Fields has the bona fides on this issue. We will see. If he does something, we shall report it.

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