Why Does Whalum Choose to Stretch the Truth?

Kenneth Whalum
You can’t always pick your messenger, and folks who maybe aren’t so interested in resolving an issue are more interesting on TV than folks who, you know, want to see school start on time and all, but it amazes me that our media is so lilly livered that they can’t even call someone out on misrepresenting their own “facts”.

Such is the case with Kenneth Whalum’s appearance on Fox 13 over the weekend. Video of the interview follows below, but I want to deal with some of the specific statements he made.

1:55 – In response to a question about an article indicating 5 of 9 members would accept the tentative compromise crafted at theCity Council’s Education Committee meeting on Thursday:

“I don’t buy anything the Commercial Appeal says. And, and, there is nothing to poll. There is no formal offer from the city council. So right now the only poll that counts is the vote that was taken when we passed the resolution, and the vote said 8-1 we will not start school.”

This is technically correct, though on Friday the Schools and the City noted that the deal mentioned on Thursday was being formally drafted for approval at the next MCS board meeting, and the next City Council meeting on August 2. By saying there is “no deal” it gives the impression that nothing is in the works. This is a misrepresentation of what those of us who actually made the meeting saw happen over the course of the two hours. Rev. Whalum was absent from that meeting.

2:12 – This is a continuation of the previous answer, but I’m highlighting it to, perhaps, illustrate the political motivation either of the Board as a whole, or Whalum in particular, for making these demands at this time.

“Now, Jill, here’s the deal, I hear the Mayor and Myron Lowery and all these guys talkin’ ’bout how school is going to start yes, school will start as soon as we get the $55m. There’s something though that has changed Jill, and I haven’t hear too many people talk about it. When we passed the resolution none of the incumbent City Council people had opposition. Well since that time, 9 or 8 incumbents have opposition. And the tone has already changed by those incumbents.”

Certainly, if Whalum believes the Board’s actions led to people deciding to file against incumbents, he’s well within his rights to believe that. However, there was no mad rush to the Election Commission on Tuesday to pick up additional petitions. The delivery of petitions followed the adoption of the redistricting lines which were defined on Tuesday night by the Memphis City Council. Only 5 people picked up a petition, and filed after the July 18th MCS Board meeting. There’s no way to know if that meeting had anything to do with their decision to file, and there’s still 4 days (including today) for them to decide to get out of the race.

Now hear comes the statement that really sticks in my craw.

2:52

“If they withheld over $150m from us over the past four years, where is that money?”

What a stunning misrepresentation of the very facts that the MCS Board used to make their case on Monday, July 18th. Here’s the actual document the school system used to make their case.

Click to enlarge
As you can see, the City Schools contend that they are owed about $59.8m from 2008-09, that money is tied up in Chancery Court. $4.4m from 2009-10, and $8.8m from 2010-11, both of which are due to delinquent collections, and $78m from 2011-12, a year that has just started and tax collections aren’t even due until August 31st.

Further, had Rev. Whalum attended the meeting on Thursday, he would have discovered that enrollment numbers are down, resulting a likely drop in funding from $78m to $68m. MCS officials acknowledged this on Thursday.

What all of this makes clear to me is first, the foundation of the logic behind the demand for $55m in order to start school is lacking. Second, the demand for funds now is politically motivated, something I hit on in my last post. Third, it doesn’t serve the interests of anyone for members of the School Board to misrepresent the record. As I noted in the comments of that post, the administration is actively negotiatting the $57.5m contested dollars from 2008-09. Resolving that issue would likely solve a lot of the mistrust. Of course, when we’re trying to negotiate payment for dollars that haven’t even been promised yet, that, by necessity, complicates matters.

There’s a lot more, like around 4:35 when he says, “Who cares about feeling good about yourself when your children are starving to death and dying on the streets” which is more about Whalum’s penchant for overblown rhetoric. I’m not sure what school funding has to do with the conditions on the street, but he draws that connection.

“Deadbeat Dads” is also mentioned again. The phrase illicits a vision of a parent that contributes nothing to their child. This, by MCS’s own admission, is a misstatement. As the chart above notes, the City has been contributing to the schools, though that contribution has been hampered by tax collection problems. If the schools had taxing authority, something every other special school district in the state has, they would be facing this same issue. They should be calling those who failed to pay property taxes the “deadbeats”. I’m sure that if the School Board wanted to, they could go and get a list of all the people and corporations that haven’t payed their taxes and call them out publicly. This doesn’t serve their political interests, and is a pain to do, which is why they haven’t done it. I feel certain that if tax revenue was healthier, as it was before the economic collapse in 2008, this would look better, but no one could have seen this coming. Everyone has been suffering from it.

What all of this really comes down to is the 2008 decision by the Memphis City Council to stop the double taxation of Memphians on schools. We pay for schools in City taxes and the County taxes, but no one else does. I looked back to see if I wrote anything about that at the time, and I didn’t, though, as a child of educators, anything that threatens school funding makes my ears perk up and causes me to be skeptical. Had the City Council chosen to keep the tax rate the same, and not repurpose that money, perhaps this wouldn’t be what it is today. That didn’t happen and there’s nothing we can do now to go back and change it. We have to move forward from where we are, not where we wish we were.

There have been several proposals put forward to resolve the 2008-09 funding dispute, including mediation, somethin Councilman Jim Strickland has pushed, to no avail. Mediation would allow the issue to get out of court, and resolved relatively quickly. However, both sides have to be amenable to the scenario. At this point, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Either way, this needs to be resolved somehow, and I’m not just talking about this year’s funding, I’m talking about all of it. The issue has been complicated over years of litigation and filings and shenanigans to the point that the media, not to mention the public, simply can’t keep up with all that’s going on. We can’t move forward with this drama continuing to play out this way. Both sides need to sit down and resolve it, for the good of the children, instead of posturing under the guise of “the good of the children”.

As of this writing, there are no details about the deal that was reported on Friday, so there’s no way to know where negotiations stand. I hope, for the good of all parties involved, the parents, teachers, and most importantly the students, that the deal can be brought forward and both the School Board and the City Council will agree to the terms. It serves no one to delay the school year at this point. The children will suffer academically, the teachers will suffer financially, and whomever is perceived as holding up the process will suffer politically.

Finally, here’s that video I referenced above. Watch it at your own peril. There is a lot that’s stated that’s just plain wrong, much more than I covered here. It’s unfortunate that an elected official and religious leader has chosen a path that is so filled with divisive rhetoric and misinformation. We should expect our officials to lead with honesty and dignity. This ain’t either, and that’s part of the problem.

Whalum on Possible School Compromise: MyFoxMEMPHIS.com

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