#MCS Following the Media – 2/1/11

Mallott Is In, Haslam Weighs In and local Republicans Phone it In

It was another crazy day.

Yesterday, in the CA, MCS Commissioner Betty Mallott came down from her post on the fence of the issue and penned a thoughtful Op-Ed in support of charter surrender. The article lays out the foundation of how we got here, and, again, dispels many of the myths of the process that we will be voting on in just one month.

On a personal note, I’m really glad Mallott has come around to this difficult position. Even though she didn’t support the action on Dec. 20th, her support now is critical in the face of an ever-shifting bar that State government would impose on a process that has been codified in the Memphis City Schools Charter, and carried out in other districts in the state, for years.

Now to the crazy.

Based on the times the first reports were filed in the press, about 10:30 yesterday morning, Governor Haslam weighed in on the charter issue calling for a plan that would protect the rights of teachers in the transition by February 15th. Here’s a copy of the letter.

In the original version of the article, it stated:

Haslam told The Commercial Appeal editorial board this morning he would not be opposed to an agreement for each system to continue status quo operations for another school year while a planning commission of some sort created a more intricate transition plan.

“I wouldn’t say we would be opposed to that,” Haslam said. “We just think there has to be a plan in place before the systems actually consolidate. So if the agreement was that we’ll let both systems continue operating until the merger plan is agreed upon and goes into effect, I don’t think from the state’s standpoint we would have an issue with that.”

The updated version of the article makes no such statement, and focuses on the reaction of Supt. Cash and Aiken, both of whom say the Feb. 15 deadline is unrealistic.

The letter quotes TCA §§ 49-5-203(d) which states:

(d) Prior to the change in any governmental structure or organization becoming effective, the commissioner of education shall determine that the rights and privileges protected by this section are not impaired, interrupted or diminished. In addition to the remedies available to a teacher aggrieved by a change in the governmental structure, organization or administration of a school system or institution, the commissioner is authorized to withhold state funds in the enforcement of this section.

For all intents and purposes, based on the original text of the article, and the form of the letter, the “merged” district could designate that current MCS instructors, from the date of transfer until the end of the next fiscal year, will maintain their current to ensure continuity of service to the children and no substantial disruptions on the five issues noted: Salary, Pensions, Sick Leave, Tenure and Contract rights. That also buys some time for any planning commission that would emerge to assess the situation and move forward with a plan.

No one believed for a minute that on March 9th everything would suddenly, magically, be different. Quite the contrary. If it takes multi-million dollar businesses up to 18 months to effectuate a merger plan, then saying the state will allow the systems until the beginning of the 2012/13 FY to have a plan in place is reasonable.

Governor Haslam has just been in office for three weeks, and the vote has been set for just at two weeks, so I give him a little leeway in trying to catch up with the developments. That said, this notion that somehow everything will be different for teachers or students on March 9th is an erroneous assertion. Things will only be different if the SCS board or administration choose to force the issue, which is not only not in their best interests, but would likely result in a very ugly, equal and opposite reaction from parents, political bodies, and Judges against the district.

Suffice it to say that it is in the best interests of all parties concerned to maintain the status quo until a transitional board is established and puts forth a plan. Further, it seems understood that the plan put forth now in the transition need not be the ultimate plan implemented. In the Knox County consolidation the County School Board came up with a plan that was essentially abandoned as soon as a transitional body was put in place.

If I’m missing something, please point it out in the comments. I just read the letter this morning and it hasn’t completely sunk in just yet.

Another Haslam related development is that he believes this is a local issue. Glad someone in Nashville gets this, now if the legislators…..

The Shelby County delegation to the State Legislature met the City Council and County Commission today at City Hall. Well, most of them. Seems the Republicans couldn’t find their way downtown from their more eastern climes.

The legislation proposed by Sen. Mark Norris (SB0025) and Sen. Brian Kelsey (SB0015) is slated to come before the Sen. Education committee today. Companion legislation will be heard in the House Education Committee on Thursday. The general consensus is that the bills, as they are written now, will not stand up in Federal courts. Still, a lot of taxpayer money will be spent both defending and attacking the legislation. Through all of this, both Kelsey and Norris claim to have the best interests of children in mind (*wink, wink*).

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Democratic legislators don’t have any idea about what the Republican majority has in mind for the bills. If neither Norris or Kelsey had the balls to step up and show up at the meeting, of course they’re not going to let their Democratic counterparts in on the game before the first hand is dealt. They’re playing poker with a stacked deck. Last thing they’re gonna do is let their opponents in on the way its stacked. Ahhh, democracy.

So, people are flying blind into a meeting tomorrow that could have a huge impact on how this whole thing goes down. The question is, will Haslam sign the bill, veto it, or let it become law on the sly. Based on his statement today, if he doesn’t veto the bill, should it reach his desk, then he’s a damn liar.

Late in the evening the details of Norris’ amendment emerged. The CA reports:

— Norris’ bill would set up a unification planning commission appointed by the SCS board chairman, the county mayor and the MCS board chairman. There would be no appointees from Memphis city government.

— The commission would recommend in favor or against 1) creation of an achievement school district within the county and 2) authorization of a municipal school district within the county. A new municipal school district would require more state legislation at that point.

— After receiving state approval, it would be submitted to the County Commission and the MCS and SCS boards. If any one of those bodies approves it, it would go to a single countywide referendum. If all three reject the plan, it would not go to a referendum.

I don’t really see what’s so different about this as opposed to the original bill, but whatever. At the end of the day, Norris still wants to take Memphians right to vote on the fate of their school district away from us. So despite all the potential movement on the issue, nothing’s really changed from a local perspective.

As for Kelsey’s bill. Who knows? I’d hazard that Kelsey doesn’t even know what he’s going to do and he’s the chair of the education committee in the Senate *shivers*.

Later in the afternoon I’ll try to have something on the amendments once we really see them. Until then, sit back, relax and ask yourself how local control, a tenet of Republican ideology, fits in to both Norris and Kelsey’s bills. If you come up with anything other than “it doesn’t” you’ve rationalized way too much.

Mallott op-ed urges “YES” vote on referendum
Guest Column: For kids and progress, we must stand united
Report: MCS gets unfair rap for its spending
State: MCS, Shelby County must submit plan for merger by Feb. 15
Haslam: Schools Transition Plan Must Be in Place by Feb. 15
Haslam calls for plan concerning Memphis teachers
Haslam Requires Plan for School Merger
Haslam Calls for Plan Concerning Memphis Teachers
Haslam Gets Involved, Asks for Transition Plan for MCS-SCS Merger
Haslam: MCS Issue Is A Local One
City and County Superintendents discuss consolidation
Gov. Haslam Enters Local Schools Fray
Mixed Reactions to Governor Haslam’s School Merger Directive
Shelby County Delegation meets in Memphis in advance of votes
Aitken: State Deadline Unrealistic
County Republicans to Push School Merger Bill in Nashville
Shelby Democratic Legislators Without Details on Schools Legislation
Board Member Renews Fight For Money
Charter Surrender Showdown: Norris Bill Moving Ahead
Shelby County Legislative Delegation Want Details On Nashville School Proposals
School Merger Debate: Martavius Jones vs. Kenneth Whalum, Jr.
Can MCS/SCS Meet Haslam’s Deadline?
Lawmakers add to Memphis schools merger debate with amended bills
Geoff Calkins: Keeping up with Martavius Jones not for the meek

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