Monday, July 30, 2012

Nashville Schools News Impacts Memphis and Shelby County

Posted By on Mon, Jul 30, 2012 at 2:48 PM

If we learned anything over the last two years, it's to keep an eye on Nashville's influence over the future of public schools in Memphis and Shelby County. Here are three recent stories worth noting.

First up, charter schools for the middle class and well-to-do: An operator called Great Hearts Academies wants to open a charter school in West Nashville and potentially lure top students. Last week the state Board of Education directed the Metro Nashville Public School System to approve the application it had previously rejected. It's a big win for charter school proponents, and even made The Wall Street Journal Monday.

Expansion of charter schools to the suburbs is the logical next step. The state board's override of the local school board could give comfort to charter school proponents in Shelby County (and discomfort some commissioners). Until this year, only poor students or those in failing schools could attend charters, but a change in state law opened the way for any kid.

The Great Hearts pitch comes at a time of rapid charter school expansion in Nashville. As The Tennessean reported, "Five years ago Metro spent $4.1 million to educate 502 students in charter schools. For the upcoming school year, Metro has budgeted to spend $25.1 million for nearly 3,000 students."

State Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, told The Tennessean he believed the state should respect the decision by the Nashville school board.

“I think it’s well known that at the time charter laws were being passed I raised serious concerns about provisions that allowed the state board to override local school boards,” Stewart said. “I continue to think the state board should not have the power to override the local board’s chartering decision, except in a case of fraud or some other similar problem. There’s clearly not that in the case.”

The second news story is about a federal court ruling on resegregation and the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution — the issues in one of the Shelby County Board of Commission's filing earlier this month. Nashville parents Frances and Jeffrey Spurlock argued that black students in North Nashville were intentionally moved out of higher-performing schools to racially isolated, subpar ones in 2009.

Again, as reported by The Tennessean, U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp wrote at the end of an 80-page opinion released Friday afternoon that the 2008 rezoning plan “does not classify students on the basis of race.”

“While the School Board’s action caused a segregative effect, the Court is unable to conclude that the School Board adopted the plan with a segregative purpose. The plan is rationally related to multiple legitimate government objectives. Therefore, it passes muster under federal constitutional principles of equal protection.”

The third story comes from the Tennessee Department of Education which on Monday recognized school districts across the state that significantly improved student performance and narrowed achievement gaps under Tennessee’s new accountability system. At an event in Sevier County, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman announced the 21 districts that earned Exemplary designations for the 2011-12 school year. Memphis and Shelby County were not among them.

The upshot of all of this: Local decisions, it appears, can be trumped by federal courts, the Tennessee Department of Education and Board of Education, and the Tennessee General Assembly. Thursday's election will tell us a lot about municipal school systems but may not be the last word.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Whitehaven's "Elvis Presley Boulevard Impossible"

Posted By on Thu, Jul 26, 2012 at 8:48 PM

In May, the Food Network show "Restaurant Impossible" and host Robert Irvine did an intervention at a family-owned, money-losing place called Pollard's Bar-B-Q on Elvis Presley Boulevard. Now Memphis is getting ready to do a $43 million makeover to the street all the way from Brooks Road to Shelby Drive.

On Thursday evening, City Councilman Harold Collins and I met for dinner at Pollard's before heading to a Whitehaven community meeting. It was the second of our before-and-after visits to Pollard's. The standard story line for "Restaurant Impossible" is admission of failure, resistance, acceptance, makeover, and tearful finale as the delighted owners see the transformation, and customers flock to the place. I can report that the restaurant decor and food are somewhat improved.

Fixing Elvis Presley Boulevard will be a lot harder.

"No offense to Pollard's," said Collins, "but I want to see some more restaurants on this street like Applebee's and Outback Steak House."

Whitehaven is a neighborhood on the edge. It is the western border of our grandly named but not so grand in fact "aerotropolis." It's the home of Graceland, which is a 15-minute drive from the rest of they city's main tourist attractions. Lately Whitehaven has been the bridesmaid to other big-ticket public-private projects that jumped the line including the Bass Pro Pyramid, the Harahan Bridge Project, Overton Square, and the Fairgrounds and Tiger Lane.

Harold Collins
  • Harold Collins
Collins says Whitehaven has average household income of $45,000, corporate citizens including FedEx, Medtronic, Smith & Nephew, and Methodist South, and deserves better. The groundbreaking for the street improvements is in November, and the work will continue in stages until 2018.

"We are preparing the bride for the wedding," he said to cheers from about 150 people, including Congressman Steve Cohen and challenger Tomeka Hart. "Then we're going to go courting."

The meeting was the third one for Whitehaven residents and businesses, and it was designed to show the kinder, gentler side of the City Engineering Division. No more"design and defend," said Engineer John Cameron. The public is invited to vote on such details as streetlight posts, sidewalk plantings, medians, and even the "compass" design in the middle of the Brooks Road intersection.

The crowd ate it up. There was applause for "LED lighting" and "mast arm signage" and a clean-up starting next week in anticipation of Elvis Week. Cameron said the street would remain open at all times, although some lanes will be closed from time to time. Trucks will continue to use the road, which is part of U.S. Highway 51. So, in theory at least, will bicycles, with shared lanes being added to the roadway. The Harahan Project, Cameron said, is separate and "they're not going to come raiding this project."

As for existing businesses that don't clean up, "I am certain pressure will be put on them," Collins said.

He plans to ask the Shelby County Commission to appropriate an additional $10 million over three years.

A makeover can only carry you so far. It's the cooking and the main fare that keeps them coming back or turns them away. Whitehaven's "Boulevard Impossible" has just begun.

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Test Scores in for Memphis and Shelby County Schools

Posted By on Thu, Jul 26, 2012 at 2:42 PM

Let the bashing begin. The State Department of Education has released district-by-district achievement test scores.

Student performance on the 2012 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program improved significantly in school districts across the state. Nearly all of the state’s 136 districts saw proficiently levels increase, and two-thirds improved in every subject of the 3-8 TCAP Achievement tests.

Memphis made improvements in math and reading at the high school and lower-grades levels. Shelby County made bigger improvements and had, as usual, higher numbers of students in the "proficient" and "advanced" categories.

District proficiency levels reveal major improvements in math skills. More than 50 districts saw double-digit growth over last year in Algebra I, with some reporting gains greater than 30 percentage points. Additionally, 23 districts saw double-digit growth in grades 3-8 math.

In Memphis, in grades 3-8, 27.6 percent of students were proficient or advanced in math and 29.2 percent were proficient or advanced in reading. In high school, 33.8 were in those categories in algebra 1 and 43.2 percent in English 1.

In Shelby County, in grades 3-8. 57.4 percent were proficient or advanced in math and 61.3 percent in reading. In high school, 60.2 percent were proficient or advanced in Algebra 1 and 74.3 percent in English 1.

In the future unified Shelby County Schools, the scores will be lumped together. But the outcome of the municipal schools issue will impact the results.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Penn State: It Sure Looks Like a Death Penalty

Posted By on Mon, Jul 23, 2012 at 1:22 PM

How does Penn State football survive in the Big Ten now with those NCAA penalties?

Its players can immediately transfer to other schools and have instant eligibility. That looks like a killer. All of Penn State's Big Ten and national rivals will be pitching the starters. Won't there be a "tipping point" if several of them leave? Especially since Penn State is also banned from postseason bowls for the remainder of the current players' college careers. That's loss of valuable television exposure and a possible shot at a pro career.

And Penn State loses 40 football scholarships over the next four years.

Certainly some good football players will still attend Penn State, but not the future All-Americans that made the school's football program famous.

College football is moving closer to free agency.

Wisconsin has made a specialty of signing quarterbacks who started for other schools. My alma mater, Michigan, is probably already checking out the roster for some upgrades at, say, linebacker and offensive line, where we lost some good players to graduation. There is a big difference between starters and second-stringers, and if Penn State is forced to field several non-scholarship players the team will be slaughtered.

This isn't the NCAA death penalty but it sure looks like it.

Maybe Penn State holds most of its starters this year, but it will be harder next year. And the loyalty and courage of those players that remain is admirable, but Penn State versus Michigan in 2013 (they're not on the schedule in 2012) should be as mismatched as, oh, Michigan and Appalachian State.

As for the prospects of a permanent change in the culture of college football, you might as well look for a permanent change in the nation's attitude toward beer, pickup trucks, or hunting and fishing. In the same segment that reported the Penn State penalties, ESPN also reported the colleges with the most "blue-chip" high school football prospects. Nothing will change outside of Happy Valley.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Paterno Statue Removed, Looks Like a Hanging

Posted By on Sun, Jul 22, 2012 at 8:33 AM

The statue of Joe Paterno outside the football stadium at Penn State has been removed.

Workmen did the deed early this morning.

The Centre Daily Times reports that 30 police officers and construction workers arrived just before dawn to begin removing the statue.

By 7:45 a.m., the Centre Daily Times, said the statue, covered with a blue tarp, was tied to a forklift as a small crowd of people gathered to watch. The paper’s Web site offered a live video.

The two-hour video looks like a hanging. A fence in front of the statue is draped in a plastic. A blue blanket is placed over the Paterno statue like a hood. Then a yellow strap is connected to a forklift, which is raised several feet and tightened while workmen with jackhammers loosen the statue from its base. The money shot comes at around the one hour and 45 minute mark when the statue is tipped over.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Consultant Says Memphis Should Love Delta or Lose It

Posted By on Fri, Jul 20, 2012 at 3:19 PM

Memphis is barely an airline hub by the industry's current standards and Memphians should quit complaining and start showing Delta more love or risk becoming a non-hub city, ala Nashville and Little Rock — which might not be a bad thing.

That's the message from consultant Brian Campbell who met Friday with Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and mayors of surrounding towns.

"If you're going to have a large scale of hub services then you are going to have to have high fares to support the cost of that operation," he said at an afternoon press conference. "That's the choice you have."

Campbell said airlines have consolidated to become profitable, and 17 cities that lost hub status or a significant number of flights are larger than Memphis.

"It's almost an accident of history that Memphis is a hub," he said.

He said Memphians should support Delta.

"You need to support the Delta service that you have. It will do you no good to complain publicly or privately about Delta Air Lines. It's like getting upset at your neighbor. You feel good after you told him off, but you didn't advance the relationship any.

"I encourage you to continue to support Delta, to help them understand this market better. Try to get your corporations to support Delta and every other carrier that may be here in the future in terms of guaranteed seat purchases. But whatever you do, support Delta."

Still, he said, Delta may reduce daily departures from 145 to 123 later this year.

They may come down some more from 145 to 123 departures in November.

"The market is small, and that's your biggest problem, and there is nothing you can do about it," he said.

Southwest and jet blue should be our prime targets.

"They've got a lot on their plate now but I do believe that in time Southwest Airlines may come to Memphis. Jet Blue is a different matter. They may or may not come and this may not be the right time for them."

Campbell said Nashville overcame the loss of its hub, but it took several years, and Nashville is a wealthier market than Memphis.

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Pigging Out on Riverfront Projects

Posted By on Fri, Jul 20, 2012 at 9:59 AM

The city's pursuit of riverfront projects, spearheaded by Mayor A C Wharton and go-to guy Robert Lipscomb, looks manic, unsynchronized, and a bit desperate.

The latest play pretty in hot pursuit is the Empress of the North, a white-elephant steamboat replica envisioned as a floating hotel. As reported by Amos Maki of The Commercial Appeal, Wharton said "we have submitted a proposal."

Whoopee. I was reminded of the parental admonition to "clear your plate" before going back to the buffet for more when I was a lad.

Here's the tally of what's on our plate already.

Bass Pro Shops. The latest rendering shows a major makeover of the exterior of the Pyramid, with a band of glass to admit natural light. The fate of the observation deck is unknown. The connection to The Pinch, and what will be developed in the Pinch, is unclear. The interstate connection to Front Street is on the drawing board. The interior construction, including the indoor swamp and hotel, is in the very early stages. The project was first proposed seven years ago. Bass Pro has other megastores in the works in Little Rock and New Orleans. I would bet a bass lure the Pyramid opening is delayed.

Beale Street Landing. Low water forced the American Queen to dock at Greenbelt Park this summer. The dock itself was moved to the cobblestones to allow dredging at the landing. The blockish structure at the top of the hill, trust me, is going to open some eyes. The "floating islands" have yet to be constructed. The usefulness of a boat dock for an occasional steamboat visit is questionable. The relative scarcity of parking concerns the current Memphis boat company. The marriage with Memphis in May will be interesting. The price is $42 million, and the concept is nearly 10 years old, and the opening is supposed to be later this year. The cobblestones work has been pushed back so many times I have lost count.

Pinch District. The connection between Bass Pro and St. Jude Children's Hospital, and the prospective retail anchor for the north end of downtown and the convention center. Forget the colorful handouts and renderings, The Pinch is a small collection of restaurants, condos, blight, and vacant buildings. The convention center and hotel are not part of Phase One of Bass Pro. Nor is funding for it included in the $200 million budget.

Mud Island River Park. Closed half the year. Nice summer concert venue, though.

Tom Lee Park. Too hot in summer. Given to Memphis in May in April and May. Torn up for a few weeks after that. No major structures or big trees because that would cramp Memphis in May activities. Called "the worst riverfront park in the country" by Benny Lendermon of the Riverfront Development Corporation.

Harahan Project. Bike and pedestrian path over the river is slated for 2014 and funding has been secured. Now it needs focus.

Floating hotel. Kitschy. There's one in Chattanooga. Nice place to have a drink on the Tennessee River. But the boat is old, the ceilings low, and the space cramped. The fact that the Empress of the North has been docked for several years and is in custody of the United States Maritime Administration speaks volumes about its viability. And the subsidies that would be required to sustain it.

Add to this, Lipscomb is also point man for the fairgrounds, Overton Square, Triangle Noir, replacement of public housing, and he has two city jobs.

Focus. Finish. Clear your plate.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Council Critics of Half-Cent Sales Tax Bump Make (A) Sense or (B) No Sense

Posted By on Wed, Jul 18, 2012 at 2:09 PM

Jim Strickland
  • Jim Strickland
Memphis City Councilmen Jim Strickland and Kemp Conrad voted against the proposed half-cent increase in the local sales tax, which will now be placed on the ballot as a referendum question in November.

Kemp Conrad
  • Kemp Conrad
Conrad and Strickland say that government cuts should come first and the sales tax is regressive because it taxes rich and poor equally. Both are stand-up guys who will speak truth to power. But this time their principled stand looks more like grandstanding to me.

Raising the local sales tax from 2.25 percent to 2.75 percent would increase the total sales tax in Tennessee to 9.75 percent. On $1000 worth of purchases, that's an additional $5. That's the cost of a sandwich or a couple of lottery tickets, a state enterprise that is heavily supported by sales in convenience stores in low-income neighborhoods so that middle-class kids can get college scholarships.

Both locals and visitors pay the sales tax. If the suburbs get their municipal school districts, then there would be no tax advantage to either side because the suburbs propose to fund schools with a half-cent sales tax increase. This is the right tax at the right time.

Memphis is facing a revenue shortfall when property appraisals are adjusted next year. The last countywide reappraisal occurred before the recession and the crash in home values. The sales tax and the property tax are Tennessee's chosen methods of raising big money for government. Mayor A C Wharton and a majority of City Council members favor putting the sales tax increase on the ballot.

What were Strickland and Conrad thinking? Here's an abbreviated summary of my conversations with them:

Me: "Five bucks on $1,000 worth of purchases. What's the big deal?
Strickland: "It's regressive. We are taxing food and prescription drugs, and this would increase the tax 5 percent. The richest and poorest person pay the same percentage."
Conrad: "Tell that to the person making $20,000 a year. The sales tax is already a major driver of people going to Arkansas and Mississippi to shop. This would only exacerbate it."

Me: "If it's regressive then why not support an alternative that makes a difference like an income tax or payroll tax?"
Strickland: "It is illegal, under state law, we cannot do payroll tax toll roads or any of that."
Conrad: "You and I both know that is not realistic. But I would not support it anyway."

Me: "All we have for big money is sales tax and property tax. This would bring in $47 million."
Strickland: "If we bring in $47 million it will remove all pressure to right-size government. The progress we have been making will completely disappear."
Conrad: "We have a spending issue, not a revenue issue. Without reforming city government we will bore through this $47 million or $50 million or whatever it is in a couple of years. This stuff about offsetting it by reducing property taxes is bogus."

Me: "The lottery is regressive, and it is state sanctioned and state marketed."
Strickland: "It's voluntary."

Me: "Is it politically impossible for you to vote against any tax increase small or large?"
Conrad: "That has zero to do with my vote. I am not a career politically-oriented person. If the mayor would come down and lobby as hard for some common sense reform we could really turn the city around. I have never seen him work so hard as he did to maximize the most regressive tax."

Me: "What is your guess on the outcome?"
Strickland: "If it passes there will be 13 different opinions about how to spend the money. But I don't think the public is going to vote for it."
Conrad: "I think it is going to be rejected overwhelmingly. If this fails, it means people want a leaner and more efficient government."

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Resegregation is a Judicial Dead End

Posted By on Tue, Jul 17, 2012 at 7:34 PM

William Raspberry
  • William Raspberry
As suburban voters vote on municipal school systems and federal judge Hardy Mays sets court dates to decide constitutional issues, here are some pertinent comments from this obituary in the Washington Post.

William Raspberry was from Okolona, Mississippi, about 20 miles south of Tupelo. He grew up in the segregated South and became a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist. His words speak to Memphis today.

From the obituary: "Mr. Raspberry derived some of his core principles from a bedrock belief in self-reliance and the importance of education. He often cited the example of his parents, both of whom were teachers. He challenged prominent civil rights figures to put their words into action to help build a better world for the poor and disenfranchised.

“Education is the one best hope black Americans have for a decent future,” Mr. Raspberry wrote in a 1982 column. “The civil rights leadership, for all its emphasis on desegregating schools, has done very little to improve them.”

"Although he considered himself a liberal, Mr. Raspberry often bucked many of the prevailing pieties of liberal orthodoxy. He favored integration but opposed busing children to achieve racial balance. He supported gun control but — during a time when the District seemed to be a free-fire zone for drug sellers — he could understand the impulse to shoot back."

“It’s not racism that’s keeping our children from learning, it’s something much nearer home than that,” he told Washingtonian magazine in 2003. “We need to remember that the most influential resource a child can have is a parent who cares. And we need to admit that sometimes parents are the missing ingredient.”

The framework for the unified Shelby County School System will be decided by suburban referenda and by court rulings on the constitutionality of the state law on municipal schools and the federal issue of equal protection in a resegregated school system. But the makeup on the student population and the individual schools cannot be dictated by the courts. People vote with their feet. Resegregation is a career killer for a federal judge. William Raspberry knew that.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

On Statues: Paterno, Elvis, Martin Luther King Jr.

Posted By on Mon, Jul 16, 2012 at 12:34 PM

Among the punishments under consideration for Penn State University in light of the Jerry Sandusky scandal is removing the statue of the late football coach Joe Paterno.

The greater and more fitting punishment, it seems to me, is to leave the statue alone. Let it stand as a reminder, background for thousands of news photos and television stand-ups, and campus landmark. Yes, that's beloved Joe, and Penn State fans will never forget him or the way his legend came undone. And every time someone looks at it they'll think of Jerry Sandusky. There could come a time when Paterno's fans want it removed just as much as some of his detractors do now.

There have been several calls for terminating football at Penn State. In other words, punish every player, fan, and coach who was ignorant of the scandal in addition to the university leaders who did know the score. That's too harsh. So is the reaction of ESPN's Rick Reilly, who regrets writing a flattering profile of Paterno for Sports Illustrated 25 years ago.

Tearing down statues inevitably recalls the dictator Saddam Hussein. That turned out to be a less-than-spontaneous demonstration of popular outrage. A dictator who killed his own people is not the same as a football coach who covered up child sexual abuse. Removing Paterno's statue would be the media event of the year. Better to leave it alone as a reminder.

As far as Penn State being a starting point for reforming the power culture of college football, good luck with that. Americans love college football, and the crowds and contracts will just keep getting bigger. Alabama opens the season against Michigan on September 1st in Dallas. Standing room space is going for $149 on eBay. And Alabama Coach Nick Saban already has his own statue, along with Alabama's other national championship coaches.

In Memphis and the Mid-South, we have some controversial statues, along with some that are widely admired. Elvis next to MLGW's headquarters, E. H. Crump in Overton Park, and W. C. Handy on Beale Street fall into the latter category. Even Ramesses the Great has a statue, recently moved from The Pyramid to the University of Memphis. Oddly enough, there is no statue in Memphis of Martin Luther King, Jr., although there is in other cities including Charlotte, Albany, and Omaha.

The most controversial statue in Memphis is the Nathan Bedford Forrest monument on Union Avenue near downtown. In 2005 there was some pressure to remove the monument, relocate the gravesite and rename the park, but it faded after then-mayor Willie Herenton and others said it was not such a good idea. A statue of Jefferson Davis has a prominent place in Confederate Park on Front Street downtown. The president of the Confederacy lived in Memphis from 1875 to 1878 and ran an insurance agency. As my colleague Michael Finger ("Ask Vance") has written, the statue was not erected until 1964, nearly a century after the end of the war.

In Jackson, Mississippi, there is a statue of former segregationist governor and Ku Klux Klan member Theodore BIlbo. It was originally in the Capitol rotunda but was moved to a committee room used by, among others, the Legislative Black Caucus.

Where statues are concerned, with the wisdom of hindsight, sometimes the best course is to not build them at all. But once they are built, the best course is usually to leave them alone. That's what Penn State should do, for better and for worse.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Trial Dates Set on Municipal Schools Issues

Posted By on Fri, Jul 13, 2012 at 1:02 PM

Federal Judge Hardy Mays has set trial dates for two separate questions underlying the municipal schools issue.

The trial on the constitutionality of the state law allowing the formation of districts is set for September 4th. The question is whether the law applies specifically to Shelby County. The discussion between Mays and attorneys in court Friday indicated there will be expert witnesses on the possible applicability to other counties in Tennessee.

The trial date for the U.S. Constitution "equal protection" claim is set for November 6th, which also happens to be election day. That trial, if it happens, could be a landmark, involving as it does claims of segregation in what is the biggest school system merger in American history.

If Mays rules that the law is unconstitutional, that could void the results of the August 2nd election. It now appears that the election will not only go on as scheduled, as Mays ruled Thursday, but also that the votes will be counted and the election certified by August 20th.

Mays said he would not rule from the bench in either case so, assuming the trials go forward, a resolution could be some months away. He also raised the possibility that the various parties could "spend a fortune for experts" and that some expert witnesses could possibly be used in both trials.

All in all, it was a light-hearted session after Thursday's marathon, with Mays and the attorneys joshing about holidays, birthdays, and caseloads.

"I've already got 150 cases for Judge (John) Fowlkes," said Mays of the newest member of the federal bench.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Municipal Elections On; A Confusing Day and Result

Posted By on Thu, Jul 12, 2012 at 6:05 PM

Judge Mays
  • Judge Mays
The courtroom was packed, the lawyers were numerous, the media attentive, the judge most able, the issue most weighty.

The main part of the decision was clear: Judge Hardy Mays decided not to stop the August 2nd election that will decide whether suburban municipalities go forward with separate school systems. The Shelby County Commission sought to stop the election on the grounds that the state law passed earlier this year violates the state constitution.

Mays, however, did not answer the constitutional question. He only said the election can proceed.

He concluded the long day with a 40-minute monologue that was a rare live demonstration of judicial thinking on an issue of great public interest and importance. There was just one thing missing: volume. No one could clearly hear either Mays or the half dozen attorneys who spoke to him.

To be blunt, Mays was guilty of low talking and mumbling. "Your honor, could you speak up," would have been on point, but lawyers don't say such things. Attorney Leo Bearman, representing the county commission, took a seat in the jury box to hear better. The rest of us mortals could only lean forward, strain, cup our ears, and guess.

The testimony was confusing enough. A lot of it had to do not with Shelby County and Memphis but with Gibson and Carroll counties and whether the new law on starting municipal school systems applies to them. Bearman and Attorney Allan Wade argued that the state law was clearly aimed strictly at Shelby County, which would make it unconstitutional. Tom Cates, representing the suburbs, said the law conceivably could apply to the two smaller counties as well as Shelby County. John Ryder, representing the Election Commission, argued that the show should go on, and if Mays were to later decide there is a constitutional flaw in the law, he could undo it before the results are certified on August 20th.

That possibility remains open.

"I don't think it's game over," said school board member David Pickler, a sentiment seconded by Wade who is on the other side.

Mays, who started promptly at 9:30 a.m. and frequently kept the mood pleasant by making jokes that everyone smiling or chuckling (or asking "what'd he say?"), clearly showed the strain of the issue. Early voting starts Friday. He took off his glasses, cupped his face in his hands, squinted, leaned back in his chair, and talked in a soft voice at a time when a booming baritone, or at least a decent working microphone, would have been more appropriate. In his closing monologue, he was obviously thinking aloud, weighing both sides of the case. What was audible sounded very interesting: "I have jurisdiction .... the issue is ripe ... there is substantial controversy that warrants declaratory judgment ... there must be irreparable harm in a constitutional case ... what is the harm here? ... it's one thing to be wrong and be corrected ... all of that counsels in favor of restraint ... I don't like the idea of a bunch of (untallied) votes sitting down there."

Fascinating stuff. I wish I could have heard it and provided some context. In many years of court reporting I have heard many a judge remind a witness to speak up, please. That goes both ways. The right to be heard has more than one meaning. See my colleague Jackson Baker's report for more details.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Former MCS Assistant Principal Indicted in Test-Taking Scheme

Posted By on Tue, Jul 10, 2012 at 4:42 PM

Edward Stanton III
  • Edward Stanton III
Clarence Mumford, 58, a Memphian and former assistant principal at Humes Middle School, was indicted by federal prosecutors Tuesday as the alleged ringleader of a cheating scam involving imposters taking licensing tests for teachers in Memphis and Shelby County as well as Arkansas and Mississippi.

United States Attorney Ed Stanton III said "over 50 individuals" were involved in the cheating incidents between 1995 and 2010. He said the majority of them did not work in Memphis. The scheme began to unravel when a test proctor noticed the same person taking a test in a morning session and again in the afternoon.

According to the indictment, Mumford charged teachers and aspiring teachers approximately $1500 to $3000 per test to have a stand-in take their place using false identification made by Mumford. The test is written and administered by Educational Testing Service (ETS) and is called the PRAXIS series. Parts of the test are required to teach specific subjects in some states including Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

Mumford, who is presently working as a guidance counselor in Hughes, Arkansas, had a first court appearance Tuesday afternoon and his unsecured bond was set at $10,000. He told a magistrate he is married and has a 34-year-old daughter and gets a pension from Memphis City Schools.

Stanton said the investigation is ongoing. Asked if the teachers involved could be criminally prosecuted, he said "we will hold them accountable."

"Mumford has created an atmosphere in which teachers who are not only unqualified but who have also gained credentials by fraud stand in front of our children every day," he said.

Stanton said the investigation started "on a small level" in West Tennessee two years ago and expanded to the other states. He did not identify any of the alleged cheaters and said it will be "an administrative call" whether or not they continue to teach. He did not know how many, if any, of them are currently working in classrooms. The indictment says Mumford conspired with five current and former MCS employees identified only by initials.

According to the indictment, "Mumford was an individual to whom teachers or individuals aspiring to be teachers who were, and/or believed they were unable to pass PRAXIS examinations could go to arrange for another individual to take PRAXIS examinations on behalf of each teacher or aspiring teacher. Teachers and aspiring teachers in schools in Memphis and Shelby County as well as in Arkansas and Mississippi made use of Mumford's services."

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Beale Street Landing: Low-water, Part 2

Posted By on Mon, Jul 9, 2012 at 10:59 AM

The boat dock at Beale Street Landing has been moved temporarily to inside the downtown harbor due to low water.

"Beale Street Landing is still under construction," said Dorchelle Spence, spokeswoman for the Riverfront Development Corporation. "One of the few remaining items from the original contract is completing the dredging underneath the docks. With the river at this very low level, it is an ideal time to do this work."

Last week the dock was at the landing at the end of the cylindrical ramp. Normally, the American Queen steamboat would tie up there, as it did on its maiden voyage and christening earlier this year.

But low water at the site of the landing and entrance to the harbor forced the steamboat to dock instead at the north end of the Mud Island Greenbelt when it visited Memphis ten days ago.

This week the dock sits next to the historic Cobblestone Landing just south of one of the boats of the Memphis Queen Riverboats. The Riverfront Development Corporation is working with the U.S. Corps of Engineers to get the landing site and harbor entrance dredged so the dock can go back to where it is supposed to be, as shown in this RDC rendering.

The $40 million project is supposed to be finished later this year.

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Memphis Problem? It Really Is The Heat

Posted By on Fri, Jul 6, 2012 at 12:57 PM

The heat doesn't get enough blame for our problems.

The heat killed Mud Island river park, even though today, some 30 years after its opening, it has bigger trees, more shade, and some very nice landscaping compared to its early years when, for better or worse, many Memphians visited the park and formed their impressions of it. Is there a sillier sight than those white tents pitched on the southern end of the island for an evening around the old camp fire when it is 90 degrees outside?

The heat on the cobblestone landing yesterday when I took a boat ride was 115 degrees, according to my car thermometer. Put as much money as you want into turning the cobblestones into a tourist attraction and it's just going to be too damn hot in the summer, global warming or no global warming.

The heat on the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge when I walked it last weekend was over 100 degrees. The future bike/pedestrian path on the nearby Harahan Bridge is going to have to confront the same issue when it opens in 2014. Pity the family that sets off on an adventure with the kiddies and wears down when they get to West Memphis.

The heat and summer sun turn the Pyramid into a blinding giant traffic hazard, with a reflective surface hot enough to fry bacon and eggs.

The sun turns the playground at Shelby Farms into a sweat box. It's a really nice playground but don't put bare legs on one of those slides in July.

Tom Lee Park is so hot in the summer that some of its few regular users are the hardcore fitness buffs who use it as a base to run the stairs up the bluff to the Bluffwalk outside my office. If you try that in street clothes you will be soaked after one trip.

A day game at AutoZone Park? Forget it, unless you're sitting in the shade. Same goes for Liberty Bowl Stadium in the opening weeks of football season.

Beale Street Landing, for all its problems, has taken note of one thing: the need for shade, air-conditioning, and a beverage vendor. The Greenline works, in part, because it has a lot of shade. Ditto Overton Park and the new Memphis Botanic Gardens attractions for families.

Bruce Van WynGarden suggests we become America's Nocturnal City on account of the heat. The least we can do is this: Before we go building any more multi-million-dollar tourism amenities, we should ask the boosters and designers a simple question: Will people use this in the summer?

Because, more often than not, the problem is not the funding, the design, the details, the marketing, the City Council, the naysayers, or any lack of imagination. It's the heat, and all the money and marketing in the world can't change it.


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