Start the Conversations

Last week's meeting of the Memphis school board's CIP committee was characterized by a long overdue discussion about what to do with underutilized schools in the system. Board president Patrice Robinson and member Deni Hirsch were both on point when they spoke the previously unspeakable.

Said Robinson, regarding the idea of closing some schools: "When we finish looking at the data [concerning various 'life safety' needs in capital improvement spending], we may have to enter into some conversations." Hirsch agreed: The commissioners would have to "look at the cost effectiveness of repairing the buildings in relation to the utilization rate" (boardspeak for "close them instead of fixing them, if they're not being adequately used").

That modest move toward sanity was impeded by longtime member Hubon "Dutch" Sandridge, who kept intoning the mantra-like refrain, "We are not about to close a school in the city of Memphis."

What makes such a diehard position all the more silly is that new and better schools could be designed and built in a manner more in keeping with the district's current "neighborhood-schools" concept if funds were not committed to the maintenance or improvement of facilities that have clearly outlived their time. Some of the older and more decrepit school buildings serve neighborhoods that no longer exist.

Yes, by all means start the conversations. If Sandridge wants to sit through meetings chanting his mantra, let him. But by no means should he be allowed to stop the more enlightened members of the board from doing their duty, which is to spend the public's education dollar wisely and in the best interests of our children.

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