#MCS Following the Media – 3/6/11

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The Referendum, Four Opinions

In the Sunday edition of the Commercial Appeal, four opinion pieces appeared: two from current Shelby County Commissioners, one from Otis Sanford, and another from Lesley Binkley III, each arguing different points and outcomes.

First, Sanford takes on the County Commission and their drive to create equity in representation on the Shelby County School board in the event the referendum is successful.

Sanford frames the possible appointment as a “spinning of wheels” for however long the appointment lasts, and damns all those who brought this forward without a plan. In doing so, Sanford conveniently ignores how this came to be and why it is what it is at this time.

The issue is complicated and emotional, but for a seasoned journalist such as Sanford, it’s not so complex as to cause all this misdirected anger. Further, as with the dissolution of any government entity, it is an inherently political process. There are elected officials involved, and even if there weren’t, there would still be no way to separate politics from the process.

Ultimately, Sanford is right, a judge will decide all this, likely re-writing or invalidating state law and bringing forth the cries from Nashville of activist judges, when in reality, it is the actions undertaken with a particular interest in mind, an interest that disenfranchises the majority of the population in Shelby County, that will likely drag this process out even more. If Sanford wants to be pissed at someone, the people who created the environment, not the people who brought the referendum, should be the true targets of his ire.

Next, Shelby County Commissioner Chris Thomas writes for the “against” position. Citing additional flight, and poor performance in the Memphis City Schools that he claims, will somehow infect the current County Schools, Thomas argues that this will be bad for all of us.

Noting the history of consolidation efforts and the University of Memphis study, the conclusions of which were part of the foundation for the referendum in the first place, Thomas argues that nothing will be better and everything will be worse if this passes. Of course, Thomas has no facts to back this up, just defensive conjecture. Thomas ends by saying the University of Memphis study doesn’t prove that Memphis City Schools would be hurt by Shelby County Schools gaining Special School District status, but again he ignores the findings that in every scenario presented in the study Memphis City Schools would suffer in some way, if nothing else, by walling off a part of the county that may eventually fall within its jurisdiction.

Another Shelby County Commissioner, Steve Mulroy, also speaks out about the referendum, but from a decidedly different frame. Mulroy notes that while there are still some unanswered questions, many have been answered in one way or another, and fear of uncertainty alone should not drive one to vote no.

Noting that “there will be no chaos”, “there will be no surrender of power to the suburbs”, and “there will be a net tax benefit to Memphis”, Mulroy presents a strong argument for voting “yes”.

Finally, Lesley H. Binkley III, a member of the executive committee of the local Urban Land Institute, argues that the wrong question is on the ballot.

Pushing a “school choice” agenda, that effectively gives parents the right to “take their education money and put it where they want”, Binkley is arguing for the complete destruction of public education as we know it.

First of all, considering that schools are funded by Federal, State and Local dollars, Binkley’s idea is a pipe dream. There’s no way this is going to happen anytime soon and it is well outside the authority of local residents to try and deem it through a referendum.

Second, Binkley asserts that: In an educational monopoly, the focus will never be on the children. Balderdash! I dare you to walk in to any public school classroom in this county and tell me that the focus isn’t on the children. In taking this position Binkley effectively defames public school teachers both in the city and the county.

Finally, if Binkley’s plan were to come to fruition, there is an economic situation that will, by necessity, follow that will not change anything for most students…supply and demand. If, for instance, every parent of a primary or secondary school aged child received a “voucher” for their child’s education, creating this kind of “school choice” that could be spent anywhere, the cost of “private” education would increase dramatically because there would be more demand than supply. While this might benefit parents whose children already attend private schools, effectively subsidizing the amount that they’re already paying, those parents who either cannot afford, or have chosen not to send their children to private schools would be stuck on the outside looking in.

Further, in doing this, and likely sucking much needed dollars from the most needy students, the education of those children left out will suffer even more as economies of scale, that allow public schools to operate at a cost per child equal to or less than many private institutions, are effectively dismantled for the benefit of those who can already afford to send their kids wherever they want, further exacerbating the income inequities that play a huge role in the performance of many public schools in the first place.

In short, this idea is short-sighted and follows the narrow minded view that rather than address the societal problems that face us we should withdraw support from public institutions and create a system that would further the cause of self-segregation for purely self-interested reasons. This position ignores the reality that our children, no matter where they attend school, will grow up with, and ultimately lead our community with the children in their peer group, making the cause of equity in education for all of our children even more critical, to improve the living standards and opportunities for all of our children.

March 6, 2011

For schools consolidation: No guessing on key issues, so vote ‘yes’
Against schools consolidation: ‘Yes’ vote will drive more from Shelby County
Otis L. Sanford: On school consolidation, disgust spreads far and wide

Sunday Morning Messages on Charter Surrender
Churches Welcome School Merger Forums
Voters Remain Divided Over Memphis City Schools Charter Surrender
David Pickler: ‘Glaring error’ in Shelby County Schools code of conduct policy

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