Feb 26 2011

#MCS Following the Media – 2/21/11-2/25/11

Posted by Steve Ross in MCS Media

Early voting has been going on for just over a week and as of the last count released, 10601 voters had participated. This number only accounts for voters that have participated through Thursday, so I’m sure the total is higher now.

The pace of early voters picked up starting on Saturday when satellite locations opened around the city. From Saturday through Thursday between 1400 and 2500 voters participated each day.

Early voting locations remain open through Thursday, March 3rd at these locations.

The other big story of the week was the closed door session held by the County Commission regarding the appointment of a new unified school board. While private consultations between attorneys and clients are commonplace, even among government entities, Commissioner Terry Roland took exception to the meeting and spoke to the media about the issues being discussed.

Of course, neither Commissioner Roland nor the media as a whole has had no problem with secret meetings conducted by Shelby County Board of Education several weeks ago, so one has to wonder about the double standard. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about openness, as I have stated time and time again, however, if there’s going to be this kind of outrage it needs to be uniform, not on again off again like a Jr. High School crush.

On Monday, the Shelby County Commission will take up the issue of the Unified Board again. If the current support holds the measure should pass easily.

Speaking of the Shelby County Board of Education, the board voted to give Supt. Aitken a contract extension through 2015, as well as a golden parachute if it turns out that he doesn’t remain in his post. This, like so many others by SCS board is a political move intended to create some kind of drama if Aitken isn’t retained by any future board.

I can already read the headlines now, “Unified Board Vote Opens Golden Parachute”. By then, regular folks will have forgotten that it was this board that voted for the golden parachute to begin with, though I’m sure people predisposed against anything the unified board might do will blame them for lack of fiscal discipline rather than the folks who created this situation, the current SCS Board. I understand my cynicism is showing, but watch it happen folks.

Jackson Baker has a pretty good piece at the Memphis Flyer detailing the timeline of events. I suggest that people who are interested in the politics of the issue, but who haven’t been keeping up with the day to day issues give it a read.

Also, Zack McMillin has been giving the issue some pretty extensive coverage, both in the paper and at the CA’s Eye on Politics blog. If you’re not checking there periodically, you’re missing out on some good analysis that doesn’t always make the paper.

I’m sure there’s plenty more stuff going on, but I’ve been so nose down in a research paper that I haven’t had as much time to explore everything.

Don’t forget to get out and vote. As I said, early voting continues through Thursday. Election day is Tuesday, March 8th.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Old Strife Heats Up over Memphis Schools
Very early early-vote totals
East Shelby Republicans Hold Schools Forum
Schools Consolidation Early Voting Tops 2K
School Merger Forum Seeks to Educate Not Advocate
Early Voting Down at the Polls
Former School Board Member on Low Voting Numbers
Dr. Whalum’s Tweet Compares Charter Surrender to Rape
No rush to polls for early charter balloting
Suburbs study effect of possible schools merger on property values

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Schools website filled with resources
Early-voting numbers update
Referendum not drawing many early voters
Merger Debate: Tomeka Hart and Chris Thomas
School Consolidation Supporters Disappointed by Early Voting Turnout
County to view school rezoning alternatives

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Shelby County Commission gets legal briefing on schools in closed session
Election Commission: Early Voting Numbers May Throw A Wrench in School Showdown
Education moment for Memphis, Shelby
County Commission asserts right to appoint all 25 members of unified school board
Commission Finds Surprises in Countywide School Board District Lines
County Commission Holds Counsel on Schools Behind Closed Doors
The Future of MCS: What If the Referendum Vote Fails?
Shelby County Commission Locks Public Out Of Meeting
MCS Schedules “Just So You Know” Town Hall Meetings
“Just So You Know” MCS Information Campaign Off to Slow Start
School Consolidation Controversy at Shelby County Commission
Few attend Memphis City Schools consolidation forum
No More Omerta!: Terry Roland Spills the Beans on Executive Session
How We Got Here

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

YouTube, a voter’s best friend
More schools YouTube fun: Pickler, Shafer, Thomas
SCS board locks Supt. Aitken in through 2015; would cost taxpayers $400,000 to choose different consolidated leader
U of M Study Prompts School Merger
Shelby County School board extends superintendent’s contract to 2015
Early voting sluggish on Memphis City Schools charter referendum

Friday, February 25, 2011

Commission to Consider Consolidated School Board
Is a Merger Worth It?
Shelby Co. School Super Gets Four Year Contract Extension
School Merger Debate: Bartlett Mayor and Commissioner Mulroy

Feb 21 2011

#MCS Following the Media – 2/18/11 – 2/20/11

Posted by Steve Ross in MCS Media

Good afternoon. I’ve got a lot of things on my plate today, and I’m still catching up from the weekend, so no detailed update today. Here are the articles from over the weekend.

The CA came out in favor of the transfer referendum over the weekend. Give that editorial a read, it’s a good one.

In other news, early voting continues. You can find the location nearest you by clicking here.

It’s going to take me a few days to get caught up. While I’m doing that, expect an update every other day or so.

Most importantly, whatever your position on the schools issue, get out and vote.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Tea Party Forum in Bartlett Generates Both Heat and Light
How will taxpayers feel about $400,000 parachute for the superintendent?
Germantown parent appeals for mutual ‘respect'; urges Memphians to consider smaller districts
Fate of City, County Schools in Balance
Lighting the Fuse
Forums’ Message: Schools Vote More Than About City
Local Faith Leaders in Favor of School Merger
SCS Board Tries to Lock in Aitken’s Contract
Is Dr. Cash Job Hunting?
No Rush to the Polls Yet in MCS Charter Referendum
MCS Superintendent Talks about Consolidation and Job Hunting
Pastors pledge support for Memphis-Shelby County Schools merger

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

Who Will Be the Superintendent if City & County Schools Merge?
School Merger Proponents Expand Campaign
Memphis, Shelby County school merger issue divisive as referendum looms
Education on school merger issues continues as voting sites open
Wendi C. Thomas: Group takes stand for children
Both sides in school consolidation debate plead their case

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Editorial: Voters hold key to unity
Parent Groups Turn Out Big For Weekend Voting

Feb 18 2011

#MCS Following the Media 2/16/11-2/17/11

Posted by Steve Ross in MCS Media

Quick Note:I’ve updated the Media Coverage page finally. Sorry, totally forgot about it.

Today marks day three of early voting in the MCS transfer referendum. As of this writing, 343 people have returned ballots, though yesterday’s participating voters have not been added to the total. Click here to see the dates, times and locations of early voting polling locations. Early voting continues through Thursday, March 3rd.

Wednesday, WREG posted a story that pointed to inconsistencies in Mayor Wharton’s position in regard to the school referendum. Really, this is about some political gamesmanship on the part of those who support Sen. Norris’ bill. The key learning in this is that sometimes a general call for help returns unexpected results. In this case, the call for clarity further muddied the waters in terms of the law, creating three standards…one that applies to Shelby County, and two others that apply to the rest of the state. Certainly, Shelby Co. was an exception to the rule to begin with, but rather than create an additional exception, the call for clarity was to normalize not further bastardize the differences between the rules for Shelby Co. and other counties in the state.

Of course, that didn’t happen. As a result, Sen. Jim Kyle has proposed a bill that would essentially turn back the changes in the law that the Norris bill made. Considering the balance of power in Nashville, I don’t know how successful Kyle’s efforts will be, but at the very least it’s a start. Also, last week the Shelby Co. House Democrats pledged to introduce their amendments, which were swatted down in the debate in the House over the Norris bill, as individual bills. A quick search shows that these started popping up in the last few days, to little fanfare.

In a blog post yesterday morning the Commercial Appeal’s Zack McMillan asks the questionIs huge countywide school board such a bad idea?“. Pointing to boards of several private schools, McMillin asks a good question. For several years I have advocated more direct representation throughout all of Shelby County’s elected bodies. In both the Memphis City Council and County Commission, the districts are so large (ranging from 75k to over 300k) that it is not only cost prohibitive for many people to mount a campaign for local office, but that even the smallest district is larger than any State House district, and most State Senate districts, creating a scenario where representation in local government is more diffuse than in state government. This is just plain bass ackwards in my view.

If we want more accountability throughout all of our governmental institutions, including the schools, we have to have more direct representation. Running for local office is already a huge time commitment for little pay, particularly on a school board where compensation is limited by the state to $5000/yr. Raising the bar further by maintaining huge districts across several jurisdictions makes it even more difficult for qualified, but not independently wealthy candidates to run for office. Further, the constituencies these individuals represent become so diffuse that it makes it more difficult for elected representatives to “vote their district”, further hindering accountability and the possibility of positive reform.

Finally, in an editorial published yesterday in the Tri-State Defender Bernal E. Smith II comes out in favor of voting “Yes” on the MCS referendum.

For many of the past several election cycles the voters of Memphis have been marginalized, trivialized and disenfranchised in many ways and on numerous levels. Despite these efforts it is my belief that nothing in a true democracy trumps the will of the people expressed and exercised through voting.

Now we have this opportunity to vote on the future of public education in our community.

A vote “NO” is a vote for the status quo, a vote to keep doing the same things the same way while expecting a different result, the very definition of insanity.

A vote “YES” is a vote for a better future, a vote for a more progressive Memphis and Shelby County and a vote for better education for all of this community’s children so that they may have a greater opportunity at a better life.

Vote “YES” on March 8!

I couldn’t agree more.

Coverage Note: This weekend I’m heading down to Jackson, MS with the University of Memphis Mock Trial team to compete in the Regional tournament. Wish us luck. If all goes well I’ll have some good news about ORCS to he held here in Memphis this March.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Shafer clarifies reason she abstained from voting to give Memphis spots on new school board
Metro Charter Supporters Quiet on Schools
Early Voting For Memphis Schools Merger Referendum
Alignment … and Chaos
School Charter Showdown: OYSI Obtain Internal Email

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Listing of school forums
U of M researchers to present study on impact of suburban special school district on Memphis
Is huge countywide school board such a bad idea?
Yes to school referendum!
TN Sen. Kyle Files Bill To Reverse School Charter Law
Flyer’s Jackson Baker to Speak on School Merger Panel
Senator Kyle Proposes Repeal of Memphis Merger Law
Kyle Files Bill To Repeal Norris-Todd
Proposal To Repeal Memphis School Merger Law
School Merger War of Words
County Commissioner Chris Thomas Objects to MCS Public-Information Plan on Referendum
MCS Starts ‘Just So You Know’ Campaign on School Merger
Schools Forums Hit Other Notes In Controversy
MCS Board pays outside firm $14,500 to run referendum information campaign
Merger Debate: Keith Williams and Dr. Warner
MCS Hires Marketing Firm For Referendum Education Campaign Using Taxpayer Money
Shelby County School Board debates extending Aitken’s contract for ‘stability’ during talks

Ed. Note: Below are two articles addressing the Metro Charter “dual majority” suit. I include them, not because this issue has anything directly, to do with the schools situation, but because the suit seeks to strike down a state law requiring a dual majority to merge City and County operations. This is relevant to the schools issue because of TCA §§ 49-2-1201 through 1208… the section of the code that State Sen. Mark Norris included in his original bill to govern consolidation of districts. In particular TCA §§ 49-2-1206 b(8) which requires

(8) The county election commission shall canvass the returns and certify the results as if separate elections were being held within each incorporated municipality or special school district that maintains a separate school system, and also within the area of the county outside of municipalities and special school districts maintaining separate school systems.

The primary opposition to this change in law revolved around the dual majority vote requirement that essentially gives a minority of the population veto power over the majority. If the suit for the Metro Charter section of state law is successful, it is quite possible that such a ruling could also be applied to other sections throughout the TCA that require dual majorities.

Metro Consolidation Case Stays Alive
Judge won’t dismiss voting suit on Memphis, Shelby County dual-majority requirement

Feb 16 2011

#MCS Following the Media – 2/13/11-2/15/11

Posted by Steve Ross in MCS Media

Today is the first day of Early Voting in the MCS Charter Referendum. Today through Friday the only location open is at the Election Commission, 157 Poplar Ave., Suite 121, from 10am to 7pm.

On Saturday the rest of the early voting locations open. You can see a full list of places and times here.

Much of the coverage has been on the chaotic nature of everything. One article noted that there were 9 government bodies involved in the issue. Of course, they left out the Federal Court system, the US Department of Education, and the US Department of Justice. What’s more, state courts could be called into service on this issue, bringing the number to a lucky 13.

The County Commission got into the mix, by passing on first reading, a change to the Shelby County School Board that would temporally increase the body from 7 members to 27 members. Two more readings are required before the body’s size increases, and the Commission is already accepting applications – polish up those resumes.

Here’s where to send them –

School board candidates can contact Steve Summerall by e-mail at steve.summerall@ shelbycountytn.gov, by phone at 545-4307 or by mail to Summerall’s attention at 160 N. Main Street, Suite 450, Memphis, TN 38103.

The size of the Unified Board reflects the current number of people represented in the current makeup, and applying that district size in the areas not currently covered, though the County district has disputed the Commission’s power to change the makeup of the board.

Expect this in a court near you very soon.

The Commercial Appeal has started a series of question answering articles, in the face of what many are calling a difficulty in getting information.

Personally, I see a lot of information out there, but not much of it really delves deep enough into the issues, including my own coverage.

This is a big topic that really requires more eyes than the four I have available. The media coverage on this has been primarily focused on the day to day events, which is what they do. The problem for viewers is if they miss an episode, they may be just far enough behind to not get where the plot is going. Add on to that multiple story lines and you’ve got lots of opportunity for confused voters.

To that end, the Memphis City School Board has embarked on an education campaign to help voters understand the issues involved as voters head to the polls.

Just a quick editorial note: Over the next few days I’m going to have to slow my coverage down to every other day or so due to previous commitments and class assignments. I should be back in full force on Monday or Tuesday of next week.

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Meeting Set for School Merger
Players abound, but so far no captain emerges in school merger

February 14th, 2011

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, County Mayor Mark Luttrell call for unity in schools debate
Schools Suit Could Find Judge Soon
Governor Haslam Defends Signing Norris Consolidation Bill to Law
County Votes to Expand School Board
Heidi Shafer taking interesting stance on schools
Politicians Playing Nice on Valentine’s Day in Schools Showdown
‘Unified School Board’ Resolution
Commission Adds Schools Contingencies to Growing Pile
MCS and MCS Board Still Exist, But for How Long?
City schools board to educate public on charter
Shelby County Commission sets stage for expanded board

February 15th, 2011

Will transportation be provided for students if Shelby County Schools takes in Memphis City Schools?
If the suburbs create a special school district, how would that affect Memphis taxes and funding for public education of Memphis students?
Can Shelby County Schools still become a special school district if voters approve the referendum?
Who’s in charge if Memphians vote to transfer authority of MCS to SCS?
Labor, civil rights, faith groups rally against city-county school merger
Early Voting For School Charter Starts Tomorrow
Voting Begins as Schools Contingency Planning Continues
Early Voting Begins in Schools Consolidation
Groups Join to Oppose School Merger
Dr. Cash Addresses Teachers’ Concerns
Memphis City Attorney Welcomes School Lawsuit
Merger Debate: Commissioner Walter Bailey and Reverend Dwight Montgomery
Teachers’ Union President on Merger Timeline
School Consolidation Debates, Forums and Town Hall Meetings
Finding School Consolidation Information Not So Easy
A Communications Gap and a Probing for Answers
Mid-South Tea Party to host schools debate in Bartlett
Debate rages over Memphis-Shelby County schools as voting begins today

Feb 15 2011

Finding Comfort in “No” – Four Methods

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis, elections, Shelby County

Over the past several days I’ve started hearing strange comments from surprising places. While all of these comments have one thing in common, the idea that Memphians should vote no on the Charter Transfer because (x) has changed (whatever x is) is starting to make the rounds and honestly, I can’t believe the lengths to which someone will contort an issue to settle in the comfort of no.

I’m not necessarily talking about people like Kenneth Whalum, Freda Williams, Sara Lewis or even Jeff Warren, though at times some of the rhetoric that they engage in meets one or more of these four criteria, particularly Whalum. That said, these four, and the folks who share their perspectives, have been solid no’s since day one. While I disagree with them, I can at least respect their decision as people who have followed the whole deal from tip to today.

I’m also not talking about people who have followed the events closely and are concerned about the way the state has unilaterally and spitefully altered the transfer process. These are legitimate concerns that, with a little information, can usually be addressed in a way that affirms the need to vote yes particularly in the face of these changes. If we allow these changes to shake our resolve and go unchallenged, they will stand, effectively hamstringing Memphis and Shelby County in perpetuity. Once that point is made clear, their resolve is usually stronger.

No, I’m primarily talking about people who could have made a difference, but for whatever reason chose not to. The people who sat on the sidelines while important decisions were being made. The people who never thought to step forward and offer assistance. The people who complain they were never asked for help. And the people who were so disengaged with the process that they couldn’t even speak clearly on the details of the topic now if asked.

Yet, for whatever reason, these people, who haven’t shown a lick of interest thus far, want to assert one or many of the four things I list below and use them as a rationale for why Memphians should vote against a process that is well within our rights to execute.

I’m going to go through these one at a time, but they all share certain similarities.

Revisionist Historians

Revisionist historians engage in a series of things to arrive at their ultimate decision. First, they either ignore that SCS and Republicans in the State Legislature have been pursuing legislation that would open the door for Special School District status for a decade or assert that those same Republicans never really wanted this to pass and were just offering it because they new it would fail.

You may already see some of the logical gymnastics that this position requires.

In addition to these contortions, revisionist historians assert that because Republicans were never serious about passing Special School District (SSD) status through the Legislature that, via some kind of divine intervention, all those involved should have known that such extreme measures as passing a transfer resolution were not required.

In support of this thesis, they point to the one year hold on such legislation offered by Norris on December 1st, but inflate it to 3 years. There was a compromise that included SCS not seeking SSD for three years, but no one from the legislature was directly involved in, or required to sign off on, that compromise.

Revisionist historians are often people on the periphery of decision makers who generally support the status quo. Their purpose is not upsetting their apple cart, to which they are permanently attached. They do harm to those who would seek out honest information from them due to their proximity of those “in the know” because they themselves are too invested and comfortable in the present power structures to actually challenge that structure.

Bench Warmers

Bench Warmers are the structural equivalent of Monday Morning Quarterbacks, except they’re actually directly involved in the game in some way. These individuals, like the revisionist historians, assert that not only was SSD not in the cards, but that the makers of the motion to transfer administration of MCS didn’t follow the proper procedure to do so, and as such, have embarked on a faulty journey with an incomplete map that ultimately led us to where we are today.

What makes these individuals different than the average person is they possess some kind of specific or particular knowledge that, assuming their assertion were correct, would have possibly been of assistance had they chosen to exercise even the slightest bit of interest.

Instead, these individuals act as though they are prohibited from acting unless asked, not only overvaluing their potential assistance, but also relying on some outmoded, 19th century idea of their station in life. In short, these individuals are just looking for a way to exonerate themselves from their own apathetic inaction. They do harm to the process by casting doubt on a process that they could have positively contributed to, but, for what ever reason, chose not to.

Slut Shamers

This one may be a bit more difficult to get, so hang with me. I’ll start with a definition of slut shaming:

Slut-shaming, also known as slut-bashing, is the idea of shaming and/or attacking a woman or a girl for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings. Furthermore, it’s “about the implication that if a woman has sex that traditional society disapproves of, she should feel guilty and inferior”.

Ok, so let’s break this down as it relates to the current situation. What this comes down to is traditional structures passing judgement and using that judgement as a means to isolate those who act outside of what it narrowly defines as acceptable behavior, or, “How dare you think you’re important/relevant/intelligent/connected enough to challenge the status quo”.

This seems to come more from the right side of the political spectrum, where maintaining the perceived established order is valued above all else, though both sides engage in it periodically. In order to influence the actions of others, these individuals seek to “shame” anyone for questioning the established order’s benevolence.

This is a tried and true tactic that has been employed for eons.

Nice folks…not really. They’ll stab you in the back just to say they saved your life.

Victim Mentality

Let’s start with a definition of the word victim:

a person who has come to feel helpless and passive in the face of misfortune or ill-treatment.

Victim mentality is when you are paralyzed by your feeling of being a victim. This is what causes abused spouses to return, over and over again, to their abusers. That feeling of dire helplessness that smothers the willingness for a person who is suffering from this victimization to break free of their abuser.

While this sounds like a problem that should be relegated to DV court, it applies in all kinds of relationships. It can come into play, on some level, at your workplace, at school, in your church…just about every social institution and relationship that you can imagine can have a feature of this cycle of victimization, including politics.

As it relates to this topic, a person suffering from victim mentality would view any number of things: the changes to state law, the specter of SSD threats, or even the sheer adversity of the situation as an untenable circumstance that will ultimately lead to a more harsh kind of victimization than is being experiencing now. An inherent assumption in this view is that by choosing to pursue this remedy, additional victimization is somehow to be expected…that we will be punished for our decision.

Individuals that hold this view may say that we need to start over, and “do it the right way”, resting on the analysis of the “bench warmer” or “revisionist historian”, both of whom share a great many characteristics with this group. However, as any case worker who has dealt with victims of domestic violence can tell you, that “right way” all too often never materializes, leading to continued abuse with often devastating consequences.

The Comfort of No

There are many more, these are just the ones I’ve experienced since Friday. They all carry the same pessimistic world-view that while the status quo is not working, any alternative is either too hard, or that there is no hope of a positive solution on the current track.

What’s worse about these positions is that they are infectious. In one instance, I found myself both following and agreeing with a person engaging in a hybrid of these arguments, until the point that this person basically slipped and asserted that change wasn’t possible. That assertion snapped me back to reality and ultimately is the reason I decided to post this.

Change is messy. There is a comfort in the status quo that “no” maintains. As chaotic as the status quo is, it is a familiar chaos that people can wrap themselves in like a protective blanket in times of adversity. However, no matter how warm or comfortable this protective blanket may feel, it is also a smothering influence that provides the flimsiest of securities, and ultimately only maintains a world where inequity can thrive.

The founders of our nation were not pessimists, they were careful optimists. The foundation upon which this nation is built is a questioning of the established order to find a better solution. It is in this questioning and belief in a better future that we have become a great nation, despite all our faults.

It is not wrong to question what is happening with this or any other situation going on in our community. However, in order to move beyond the present, we must see the possibility of a positive future, and that requires a brand of optimism that both questions the problem and the remedy while weighing both equally in arriving at a solution.

In order to find comfort in “no” one must start by overvaluing the status quo and the structures that maintain it. It is this very condition that has led to stagnation in our politics and our society, and ultimately, it is this condition that, if allowed to persist, will be our undoing.

I hope that this post will serve as an immunization against these world-views as we move forward toward election day. I don’t know if any of these arguments or assessments will help those suffering from these conditions, but I do know that, like a virus, these views can spread in an environment where they are allowed to exist unchallenged.