Thursday, June 28, 2012

"Fartin' in the Wind": Issues of Superintendency, Commission Lawsuit Get Roiled Reactions

Posted By on Thu, Jun 28, 2012 at 7:44 AM

Even under the tense circumstances of this weeks school board meeting, superintendents Aitken and Cash maintained cordial relations.
  • JB
  • Even under the tense circumstances of this week's school board meeting, superintendents Aitken and Cash maintained cordial relations.
Reaction was rampant Wednesday to the continuing wrangles on the Unified School Board about the superintendency as well as to a new County Commission suit to block pending referenda on suburban school districts.

The Superintendency: Perhaps the most succinct summation of what happened at Tuesday night’s board meeting came from Tomeka Hart, an MCS holdover who put it this way Wednesday night: “It was about whether there would be a search or whether [John] Aitken would be superintendent. We voted for the search.”

Hart said the choice had been a fundamental one and took issue with published accounts suggesting the board, which debated for almost two hours the issue of whether to launch a search for a superintendent, had wasted its time.

She said that either Aitken, superintendent of Shelby County Schools, or Memphis City School superintendent Kriner Cash would be “fine with me,” but did not think the issue of who serves as superintendent should be closed yet.

Hart’s attitude contrasted with that of Martavius Jones, with whom she had led the move in December 2010 to surrender the MSC charter, thereby forcing the merger with SCS.
Jones had either abstained or voted No in the series of votes that led to a board vote authorizing chairman Billy Orgel to appoint a committee to arrange a search.

So did David Pickler, the former SCS chairman who is now running for a position on the permanent Unified Board as a supporter of municipal school independence.

In debate Tuesday night, both Jones and Pickler had based much of their positions on the premise that the board’s preeminent need was to digest the recommendations made to it earlier in the meeting by the Transition Planning Commission.

In separate conversations Wednesday, however, both admitted to nursing a belief that a failure to authorize or initiate a search would tend to confirm the prospects of one of the existing superintendents – Aitken, in the case of Pickler, who is a resolute supporter of the Shelby County Schools chief; Cash, in the case of Jones, who maintains an optimism about the MCS head’s prospects.

Pickler’s belief is founded on the fact that Aitken is already the superintendent of the only duly constituted county educational unit, that he has a contract that extends all the way to 2005, and that, failing any action by the school board to designate a different superintendent, he is the de facto chief of whatever expanded version of a county school system is produced by the MCS-SCS merger.

For his part, Jones is undeterred by the action of the board last week in declining to renew Cash’s contract, which is due to expire in August 2013, the point at which the MCS-SCS merger becomes effective. (On the same night, the board rejected a motion of non-renewal for Aitken.)

As Jones points out, the current 23-member School Board is an interim body. On August 2, a new 7-member permanent board will be elected.

A necessary parenthesis, because this gets hard to follow: The seven winners of the August races will take office immediately, co-existing for a year with holdovers from the interim board, the two groups together sustaiing a 23-member body until August 2013.

Since several of the contested races pit current members against each other, temporary vacancies will be created, which the County Commission will fill for the meantime. But as of August 2013 only the elected seven will constitute the permanent board. Complicated, right? You betcha!

Anaother complication is that some point the County Commission will petition Judge Mays to expand the board to 13, at which point the sequence of appointed members and subsequent elections will commence again. Whew! End of necessary parenthesis.

Clearly, the composition of the Unified Board is due for so many potential changeovers as to make it possible, Jones contends, for the existence at some point of a board membership friendly to Cash, one that could decide to hire the MCS leader, despite his apparent rejection last week.

Jones’ emergence as a full-tilt booster of Cash has surprised many observers, who had gotten used to his role as an apostle of county-wide school unification for the last year and a half. Jones concedes that there has been a boom for Aitken on the part of other such unifiers, but he professes doubts that he SCS superintendent has enough experience with the inner city, and he points out that a 150,000 –student county-wide school system will still be predominantly urban.

There was an ironic footnote to Jones’ position on Wednesday afternoon. As he was discussing the schools situation on a downtown street corner with this reporter, a retired Marine colonel named David Dotson happened by.

Recognizing Jones, Dotson initiated a conversation in which he courteously but bluntly (“You’re fartin’ in the wind,” he said at one point) told Jones that resistance to efforts by Shelby County’s six suburban municipalities to establish independent school systems was futile, akin to a husband’s trying to tell an estranged wife she had no power to leave.

And Cash, whose champion Jones had become, was not only not a unifying element, he was one of the major causes of the breakup, insisted Dotson, who went on to praise Aitken, likening the SCS head’s persona to that of Marine officers he had served with.

The Commission Lawsuit: Meanwhile, it became apparent that there was resistance from within Shelby County government and from within the Shelby County Commission itself to the suit filed under the auspices of the Commission requesting intercession by presiding U,S. District Judge Hardy Mays against the carrying out of the schooled August 2 referenda.

In separate news releases District 4 (suburban) commissioners Terry Roland and Chris Thomas challenged the legality of the suit as having been decided upon in violation of the state Sunshine Law and without an expressly conducted and legally binding vote by the Commission.


And Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, who increasingly has become a front-and-center presence in the ongoing schools matters, issued his own objection to the suit.

In a press release Wednesday, Luttrell said: “I’m not surprised by the lawsuit. However, I was shocked by the language. The lawsuit needs to be based on constitutional merits and not on race. Additionally, state law allows for these special elections. They should be held as planned.”

He continued: “Citizens in municipalities within Shelby County should have the right to vote on whether they want to operate their own school systems,” And the press release containing Luttrell’s comments pointedly noted that “the Shelby County Attorney’s Office has received a request to investigate whether the lawsuit was legally filed since no official vote was taken by the entire Shelby County Commission” and that “Shelby County Attorney Kelly Rayne will also determine whether any sunshine laws were violated.” rellOpposesLawsuittoBlockMunicipalSchoolElections6-27-12.pdf

Fartin' in the wind... Martavius Jones and Colonel Dotson in their street-corner dialogue
  • JB
  • "Fartin' in the wind..."" Martavius Jones and Colonel Dotson in their street-corner dialogue


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