It’s Not a Promise, It’s a Threat

The noise machine is cranking up again. After a week or so of cooling off during the Christmas to New Years media dead zone, the coverage got ratcheted up again yesterday thanks to a “press conference” from the good folks at the Shelby County School Board.

But don’t be fooled. All the rhetoric coming from the County system is exactly that, rhetoric. If you look at the bulk of yesterday’s news coverage you’ll see dire warnings from David Pickler of “consequences” should the issue come to a vote and be approved by the voters of Memphis.

These are not the words of a man interested in finding the best solution for all the children in Shelby County. These are the words of a man who won re-election by a scant 166 votes seeing his political future slip away thanks to his own hubris. The rest of the story for David Pickler will, no doubt, run like the Greek Tragedy it’s turning into.

The truth of the matter, which runs contrary to the “consequences” asserted by the County School leaders, is that after the consolidation vote is held, and the legal proceedings begin, the Shelby County Board of Education will begin to look very different. Reapportionment will ensure that between 4 and 5 members represent city constituents. The “consequence” of this will be that David Pickler, the father of School Consolidation in Shelby County, will not be the Chair of the resulting board at the least, at most, he’ll be off the Board completely.

The biggest “unknowns” in all of this is just how long it will take, and what the transition will look like. How the transition proceeds will be partially determined by the posture the Shelby County Board of Education, and the likely legal rulings that will follow. If the Shelby County Board chooses to see this as a “shotgun wedding”, a characterization they borrowed from Mayor Wharton and invoked last week, then I’m sure that adversarial attitude will be countered by a litany of lawsuits.

If, on the other hand, Shelby County Schools acknowledges their role in creating this scenario, something they haven’t done yet, then maybe, just maybe, the impending transition will be less volatile for the new merged system.

I don’t think that’s gonna happen because no one on the County Board has taken a moment to consider what they would have done if the tables were turned…something they should have considered before they sought Special School District status at the exclusion of 70% of the students in Shelby County.

The truth is, while the size of this potential merger may be unprecedented, the circumstances aren’t. On page 50 of this study there is a timeline of the consolidation effort that brought together the Knox County Schools and Knoxville Schools. If you read through that timeline, you see that the County Schools had no input on the election, and that only Knoxville citizens voted to surrender their schools to the County. Further, you see that the County schools had to act quickly, only having about two months to start on a transition plan.

The difference between what Knox County Schools did, and what Shelby County Schools is doing is that Knox Co. acted proactively to deal with the impending consolidation. They saw the writing on the wall and prepared for the expected outcome, even if that transition plan wasn’t ultimately implemented.

By contrast, Shelby Co. Schools is doing everything it can to scare the dickens out of City voters and MCS employees, most of whom don’t trust the County officials any further than they could throw them. MCS employees should take note, your contracts will be enforced, just like they were in Knoxville, despite the rhetoric to the contrary by opponents of the measure and the County School Board.

At the end of the day, all David Pickler and his Shelby County colleagues have are threats. All they can do is try to scare you with predictions about “consequences”, when in reality the consequence is that at least 5 of them will be out of a gig once the dust settles. For a man like David Pickler, who has spent the past 10 years of his life working on an exclusionary plan to codify his dedication to “separate but equal” in state law, that’s the most frightening “consequence” of them all.

You reap what you sow Mr. Pickler.

See also: Getting in a Pickle and Grasping at Straws

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