Poisoning the Well

Opponents of School Merger Don't Have to Prove Anything, Just Gin Up Fear

Does this scare you enough?

One element of any campaign, but particularly a campaign as emotionally charged as the fate of public education in a community, is the element of fear.

Fear comes naturally with an attempt to change something because the outcome is unknown, and long held assumptions may be challenged in a way that is uncomfortable. One of the tactics used by people who would seek to derail any change in the status quo is using that naturally occurring fear and taking it up a notch to support their intended outcome. This is called “poisoning the well”.

Over the past week since the historic vote to bring the fate of the MCS Charter to a referendum I’ve been chronicling the media coverage. Thus far, most of the coverage has been fairly benign. The emerging narrative has been largely focused on the political realities behind the resolution vote, and the questions that currently don’t have any answers right now due to the circumstances of the situation, though that seems to be shifting. Over the past few days the coverage has shifted some to a so far unsubstantiated charge by Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland that there was a back room deal to secure the majority of the vote. Roland asserts he has “proof” of such a deal, but as of yet, has not been forthcoming with that “proof”.

One example of legitimate questions that need answers is this post from Shelby County Commissioner Mike Carpenter’s campaign site.

Since his posting of these questions, some have been answered, many have not. Over the coming days I hope to match up some answers to these questions here on the blog. I’ll also be working on a more comprehensive section of the blog to address issues as they arise.

While there are many questions that need to be answered, there have also been some attempts to create controversy about the vote in areas where none should exist. The previously mentioned charge put forth by Commissioner Roland, which borders on libel unless he has something other than circumstantial evidence, is one example.

Another example is this site put together by the same people who opposed the metro charter vote back in the fall. The site makes a list of “reforms” that they feel must be accomplished during the transition process to merge the districts…a process which hasn’t yet begun. Among these are limiting collective bargaining, increasing instructional time for teachers, eliminating optional schools, outsourcing services, approving new Charter Schools, funding home-schooling, and firing all MCS middle management.

It should be noted that not all of the “ideas” on the site are bad, however, it seems clear that the intent of this “list of demands” is to make MCS teachers, administrators, and some parents FEEL as if their livelihoods are on the line or the future of their schools are in danger should the referendum be approved.

While there is probably a good bit of duplication between the two districts, that doesn’t mean that there is any less need for teachers or administrators going forward, particularly through the transition. In most large school consolidation transitions I’ve studied there is a two to three year period of transition before any “efficiencies” are acted upon. There’s no reason to believe the same wouldn’t be true here and there’s no way to know what those “efficiencies” would look like.

Further, state law provides that teachers would keep their current contracts through the term of the contract in any consolidation, and that district wide parity would have to be achieved over time meaning most county teachers would likely see a pay raise.

As for the future of specific schools and/or programs, there are a lot of questions going forward. However, before any dramatic changes are made there will have to be a reapportionment of the resulting Board of Education and a new election. The fate of schools and programs will not be decided until all the constituents of the resulting district are represented on the resulting legislative body. Any attempts to move unilaterally before such a time will most definitely result in litigation.

So, these are a few examples of a group or individual seeking to poison the well of public opinion against something that I believe is in their best interest, but there are others. Notably, former Nashville English Only activist John Crisp who in an email clearly states he wants to gin up as much fear as possible among key constituencies.

There’s also State Sen. Brian Kelsey who has launched a full frontal attack on the Memphis City Schools from his perch in Nashville.

The point is, consider the messenger, not just the message, and that includes me. I’m biased in favor of this proposal, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. The difference is, I will not play on your emotions. I will seek to provide the best information I can find out there, even if it doesn’t further my position.

Ultimately, this is about the kids and the future of our community, not the power brokers seeking to save their own skins or make some kind of political gain. If it were only about power the MCS School board would have NEVER approved the vote for a referendum.

As long as we all keep these things in mind we can make the most informed decision in the upcoming election.

Leave a Reply