Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Shelby County Schools' Political Payback Only Hurts Students

It’s always the innocent bystanders who get shot.

That’s especially true in school politics, where the ultimate victims are always the students.

Recently, in the latest salvo from the Shelby County School Board, Memphis City Schools was notified in a letter from county superintendent Bobby Webb that 155 students in an area being annexed by Memphis cannot attend county schools next year in keeping with past practice.

Sometimes, it just doesn’t seem possible for the county school system to exhaust its supply of pettiness and cheap shots. The letter seems to come from the same place as the outbursts by County Schools Chairman David Pickler following Memphis City Schools’ refusal to support legislation before the Tennessee Legislature that would have made the county system into a special school district.

Reciprocity

As we pointed out April 14, there were major political obstacles to the city schools’ support for the special district, primarily connected to the question of what benefits, if any, would Memphis City Schools receive from lobbying for the legislation. In the end, there was no benefits and it did nothing to support the special district, igniting an overheated hue and cry from Shelby County Schools which complained that its city counterparts had violated an agreement and a newly minted spirit of comity.

It’s a tendency of the county schools to see their interests as the center of the educational universe and to pander to their constituents, but we’re hard-pressed to imagine how they missed the call so badly on the special school district. Even a political novice could have predicted that unless there was some reciprocity for Memphis City Schools, there was little reason for it to support this change.

It was a telling indicator of how poorly the county district handles issues that require serious negotiation and compromise. Memphis City Schools’ officials contend that they never made a commitment to support the state legislation, and privately complained that they felt that Shelby County Schools had tried to bully them with Memphis Tomorrow’s approval of the special district.

All that’s just background, but apparently, as a show of their displeasure and pique, the county district decided to send a message. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of students living in the Southwind-Windyke annexation area.

The 155

There are 155 of them – 81 in elementary school, 44 in middle school and 30 in high school. In the past, Shelby County Schools has allowed for a transition period up to several years for students to move from their present schools to city schools. In addition, students in the 11th and 12th grades – and sometimes the 10th – have been allowed to graduate from the school they attended at the time of annexation.

But no more.

In an effort to show its muscle, the county school system gave Superintendent Carol Johnson one week’s notice that it would not be allowing a transition period for the 155 students in this year’s annexation area. It’s one week’s notice for the superintendent to plan for them. This week, the county district will notify parents of its decision, forcing their children to move next fall from schools in Germantown to schools within the Memphis city limits.

Under Capacity

Most incredibly of all, the students being removed from Germantown High School are now in a school whose dominant characteristic is that it is under capacity and will be even more so in the future. In other words, the county system could easily have allowed these students the opportunity to complete high school in the present school they are attending. By the way, the grand total of students who would have been seniors at Germantown High School next year is 10, hardly a problem for a school about 200 students below capacity.

Instead, today, Memphis City Schools is unexpectedly trying to find places for these students in its schools. Some of the obvious options are Ridgeway High which is 147 percent over capacity; Ridgeway Middle School, 111 percent over capacity and Ridgeway Elementary School, 110 percent.

Prepare yourself for the county system's normal claim that its school are overcrowded, but as usual, its statistics would have made Enron proud. Not only is Germantown High School under capacity, but so are Germantown Elementary (about 40 students) and Germantown Middle Schools (about 250 students).

All in all, even in a political environment known for its adversarial positioning, the county’s position is spiteful to the extreme. And sadly, its willingness to use students as pawns for its political agenda says more about its commitment to education than any amount of speeches that its officials can give.

Annexation

The area being annexed is, roughly speaking, an oddly shaped area north of FedEx World Headquarters and east of Hacks Cross Road, a sliver of land that runs east along Hacks Cross Road and then eastward along Nonconnah Creek, and an area that is essentially Windyke.

These areas were immediately annexed, but most of Southwind and the area west of Wyndyke will wait to be annexed until 2013 in an agreement entered into by The City of Memphis. Looking at the annexation plan, it’s hard to find the logic in it. Some areas are leapfrogged for no apparent reason except they are largely single family residences and given a seven-year reprieve in city taxes.

Politics is a contact sport, but some things should rise above the normal daily political gamesmanship.

Fair play for these 155 students is surely one of them.


7 comments:

BraveCordovaDem said...

I have always pointed to the hacks on the County School Board when I hear people criticizing the City School Board. Maybe this will get some people to understanding what I am saying.

Anonymous said...

There must be something the students and their families can do in regards to the hardship that would be presented to them weighed against the minimal interest the county actually has regarding the immediacy and severity of its actions. Not to mention the notice the county has given both the city and the students' family is seemingly inadequate, especially in the face of a situation where the county is in the better position to serve the needs of the students. After all, the purpose of the school board is to provide for the best interest of its students. The affected students have a strong interest in staying in their school. There are hard facts to follow this argument. Pubic policy urges the county to refrain from retaliation (at the expense of its constituents) and do whats best for the students after all, "... the children are our future!"

Maybe someone should call an attorney.

Larry said...

Why is Memphis annexing this area? Hmmmm, maybe Memphis should stop annexing ... or maybe we should all follow the law:

A municipality may forcibly annex only "when it appears that the prosperity of such municipality and territory will be materially retarded and the safety and welfare of the inhabitants and property endangered, after notice and public hearing, by ordinance, may extend its corporate limits by annexation of such territory adjoining its existing boundaries as may be deemed necessary for the welfare of the residents and property owners of the affected territory as well as the municipality as a whole."

Who believes that the prosperity of Memphis AND Southwind would have been retarded AND the safety and welfare of the inhabitants AND property were endangered without annexation?

Smart City Consulting said...

This area is being annexed as part of the urban growth agreement which set aside this area for Memphis, as agreed to by Collierville and Germantown. The problem is not in the annexation, but in the county's fallacious policies to provide urban-level services in unincorporated areas, a policy which flies in the face of good financial sense and good public policy.

Anonymous said...

I AM GOING TO SPEAK FOR THE RESIDENTS OF SHELBLY COUNTY, MEMPHIS, TN, WE ARE KNOW BEING ANNEXED BY OUR GOVERMENNT AND I THINK IT IS NOT RIGHT. I THINK THAT OUR GOVERMENT IS TRYING TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OUR COMMUNITY BUT WANTS TO TAX US. HERRINTON HAS HIS OWN PRESPECTIVE AND IS TRYING TO MAKE UP FOR HIS OWN MISTAKES. UNFORUNTANLEY, WERE MAKING UP FOR HIS MISTAKES BY HAVING TO MAKE UP THE DIFFERENCE IN THE ECONOMY. I PLAN ON MAKING THE RESIDENTS OF SHELBY COUNTY OF TENNESSEE AWARE OF THE ASPECTS OF THE SITUATION AND TURN THEM AGAINST WHAT YOU AND YOUR FAMILY IS DOING. IF I HAVE TO REACH A GREATER AREA I WILL. GOOD LUCK.

Anonymous said...

The problem is solely w/ the city of Memphis. The simply want to collect the attractive tax base & spend the money in other areas of the city. Later they will complain that they can't afford to provide fire & ambulance service. The county should be under no obligation to take students of newly annexed areas. If the city wants that then the city should offer to pay for them to attend county schools. What really stinks is how unfair the school funding model is. County residents have to pay for two-thirds the cost of city schools. Building a new school in Memphis should be an easy deal, especially since the county residents unfairly pay for most of it!!!!

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