Thursday, May 01, 2008

Hard Times In City Schools

Just about the time that we begin to think that we’ve been too hard on Memphis City Schools, we get another inside glimpse that scares the hell out of us.

At the end of January, there was the case of the serial child beater given a coaching job at Ridgeway Middle School. Previously removed from his job at Hamilton High School for beating boys for everything from missing free throws to missing class, Ted Anderson was incredibly given a second chance by Interim Superintendent Dan Ward.

Complaining that his removal from Hamilton had been “degrading,” he immediately set out to degrade boys at Ridgeway, and when caught, he offered up this example of racial self-hatred:

“This is the South, man, and young black boys don’t respect nothing but strength…’Sit down before I whip your (butt).’ They respect that…quick, fast and in a hurry, ‘Bend over here, boy, you’ve got three licks.’”


Now comes the principal of Hollis F. Price Middle College, Daphne Beasley, who appears to have taken it upon herself to become the morality police at her school, including the “outing” of a gay couple. As in the earlier case, it has the ear markings of another school authority figure running roughshod over basic professional standards in pursuit of their own personal ideology.

Using tactics that would have made the Kremlin proud, Ms. Beasley took it upon herself to get a list of “homo and hetero” couples so she could monitor their behavior. Based on “information” from teachers and students, she compiled a list of names of offenders, including an allegedly gay couple.

When the principal left the names of the couple in plain view at her school, effectively outing them, the ACLU complained and sent a letter demanding that Ms. Bealey is disciplined. We think the best response would be for the ACLU to gather gossip and hearsay about her sexual habits just so she knows how it feels.

No Surprise

Meanwhile, we are told that the district’s general counsel has assured board members and administrators that there is “no situation” at the school. It would have surprised us if the general counsel had decided otherwise. After all, that’s the office charged with legally protecting its clients from lawsuits.

To us, assurances from the general counsel’s office in this case are worth about as much as the paper they are printed on. If the board of commissioners wants to really assure the public that this kind of bigotry toward students’ sexual orientation isn’t taking place, they will hire an independent, outside attorney to examine the facts of this case and render an objective decision.

Two Concerns

Meanwhile, two things about this complaint trouble us.

One, it happened at the Middle College which happens to be located on the campus of Lemoyne-Owen College, a college with a religious background. We can’t help but wonder if any of this prejudice stems from the religious subtext of the campus. Also, we think that its location might further blur the line between education and religion that already is too much a part of the culture of Memphis City Schools.

Two, it raises questions about the school reflecting the traditional hostility found in too much of the black community to homosexuals, a fact that leads most gay African-Americans to lead double lives and hide deep in the closet for fear of public condemnation from the pulpit or just old-fashioned shunning.

The Reason Doesn’t Matter

Regardless of the cause, this kind of action by a principal of Memphis City Schools is the perversion, not the sexual behavior of any of her students. To us, all of this represents the ugly underbelly of Memphis prejudice, and sadly it comes at a time when we need to prove that tolerance is part of our nature since it’s becoming a competitive advantage for cities in the global economy.

As a gay friend said to us when we were working on the Memphis Talent Magnet Report, “We are like the canaries in the coal mine. If the city accepts us, it will accept every one, and it is prima facie tolerant.”

About now, we’d like to shove any principals who harbor this brand of moralistic superiority into a coal mine for good. As long as there is bigotry and prejudice in any form in Memphis City Schools, it is by definition a hostile place for education.

Bad Timing

Speaking of our city school district, it just can’t catch a break. In the midst of the debate at Memphis City Council about the elimination of city funding for schools (funding that results in Memphians paying twice for schools), The Commercial Appeal ran an article about the district’s incredible $119 million fund balance – more than either Memphis or Shelby County Government’s.

Public sector financial officials are often the most skilled at double talk of anybody in government, and Pam Antsey, chief financial officer for Memphis City School, when asked why the schools needed such a sizable reserve fund, said: “If you have a catastrophic event, you would have to utilize fund balance to cover it.”

Taken to its logical conclusion, it would seem to mean that city and county finance officials are negligent in being content with much smaller reserve funds.


Ms. Antsey also said that built-in efficiencies have allowed the district to save money. It sure would be nice if these savings were returned to local Memphis taxpayers or if the district would invest the money in incentives for innovative teaching and learning programs aimed at much-needed academic improvement.

We don’t mean to be too harsh on Ms. Antsey, because compared to her counterpart at Shelby County Schools, her explanation was highly articulate. There, Anita Hays, said that district’s burgeoning reserve fund – now at $65 million – just “shows that you are able to spend your money wisely.”

It was an incredible statement, since it would seem that the wisest way to spend the money for education would actually be on students in a classroom.

Taking her comments to their logical conclusion, it would seem to mean that city and county finance officials are not as wise in spending their money as the county school district.

A Few Questions

Actually, more to the point, these large fund reserves indicate that the yearly budget proposals by both districts contain a sizable amount of fat, and that at the time of the budget submission, the school districts’ financial experts know full well that there is money “hidden” in the proposed budgets.

As we read the newspaper report about these reserve funds, we can only hope that reporters – or City Council members - take the time to ask a few follow-up questions:

• What is the rate of growth in both districts’ reserve funds compared to city and county governments?

• Are these funds invested or are they in cash?

• If the funds are invested, as presumably they should be, what is the return on investment?

• If the reserve funds are invested, are the investments any riskier than city and county governments?


Anonymous said...

A college with a fundamentalist background??? Lemoyne-Owen College was founded by members of and is still associated with the UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST arguably one of the most liberal of the mainline Protestant denominations not with the more familiar (at least in Memphis & the Bible Belt) and, indeed, fundamentalist Churches of Christ. It was founded by abolitionists to educate freedmen and runaway slaves. Hardly, sounds like a "fundamentalist" background to me. Get your facts straight -especially before drawing unfounded conclusions!!!

Anonymous said...

MCS is so screwed up. I really don't kno what world they live in? The school board doesn't want to talk to the city council, as seen by the conversation here a week or two ago between Hart and Fullilove. MCS rehires a child beater and shelters a bigot, and now they are sitting on $119 million. What, are they trying build an endowment to insure teachers will always get cost of living pay raises? If only they were that smart.
Please Bredesen, just come in and take over our school system. When people are looking at Herenton going over there and being a better manager, you know that system is completely broken.

Anonymous said...

United Church of Christ is mainstream. The variety practiced at L-O is not.

Anonymous said...

If anonymous thinks that Lemoyne-Owen is a bastion of free speech and academic freedom, he's the one that needs to get his facts straight. And why is a public school on the campus of a church school in the first place. It's time to quit acting like we should wink at all that goes on at Lemoyne-Owen just because it's black.

Anonymous said...

8:50 - I never contended that LeMoyne Owen was a bastion of free speech, academic freedom, or anything else. I was pointing out a factual error on this blogsite. The inference was made that bigoted actions taking place at an MCS school on the campus may have been the result of the college's "fundamentalist" background in the Church of Christ. The school is historically tied to a liberal denomination - the United Church of Christ not the fundamentalist Churches of Christ. Thus, bigoted actions occuring today cannot be blamed on a "fundamentalist" background/historical ties. I again say this blogsite should get it historical facts straight before drawing inferences about events occuring today.

Anonymous said...

One last thought - after my last post I went back and read the blog again and now I find that all references to Church of Christ and Baptist have been removed and replaced with "a college with a religious background". I guess this blogsite does not make it a practice to acknowledge factual errors.