Sunday, July 27, 2008

Education Officials Schooled In Controversy

Some things never change.

At Memphis City Schools, the games began again, and at Shelby County Schools, they never seem to stop.

First, the city district. It appears that despite 1,100 students in the Countrywood and Berryhill annexation areas needing a new K-8 school, the facility support and facility construction offices let the bids expire without taking any action. There had been rumbling in the offices for awhile that they would never allow the school to be built, acting on the stereotype that it’s being built for white students.

Probably about 25 per cent of the children who’d attend the school are nonwhite, and if Cordova High School is any indication, that percentage should climb. However, none of this did anything to stop the issue from being driven by the basest racial motivations.

Begging For Help

The simplistic response to the need to build the school at Riverwood Farms was that the money should be spent on inner city schools. We’ve said many times before that Memphis City Schools needs more capital money to improve schools in the urban core; however, the real question is that if this new school isn’t built, what does the city district plan to do with these students who are now attending county schools?

By awarding the bid, the new school could have been built in time for the 2009-2010 school year. But because of the inaction by Memphis City Schools, the project must now be rebid, and there’s nothing for the city district to do but get down on its knees and ask for the Pickler regime at the county district to keep the students for another year.

That could be a difficult negotiation, because there’s really nothing in it for Shelby County Schools except for good will, and that’s in short supply these days.

Fussin’ And Feudin’

This school is a volatile issue to the people living in the annexed area, but more to the point, it’s an opportunity for Memphis City Schools to attract middle class kids of both races into its schools. All told, there are 2,600 students who need to be moved to city schools when high school students are included.

The impact of all this doesn’t seem to be lost on new officials of the Cash Administration at Memphis City Schools with their new focus on accountability, because these students could improve the district’s scores on state tests. It’s also not lost on them that even the increased attention to contract compliance was no fail-safe to prevent this costly mistake.

Over at Shelby County Schools, poor board member Fred Johnson – the only African-American and the only voice of reason – made the mistake of suggesting that the county district should consider “reasonable options” to end its feud with the Shelby County Board of Commissioners over the planned $56,000 raise to county schools superintendent Bobby Webb.

You’re Dismissed

Dr. Johnson was treated dismissively and his idea was rejected out of hand, prompting one school staffer to say that he now knows what it feels like to be black student in the county district.

His colleague Ron Lollar hung his defense on the fact that even with the massive raise to Mr. Webb, the district remained within budget, flunking the test on the symbolic importance of being frugal in times of financial stress for Shelby County Government (whose employees aren’t getting raises this year).

Amazingly, Dr. Johnson didn’t even have the audacity to suggest a specific fence-mending strategy, such as Superintendent Webb’s 32% raise should be reduced to 2%, the same as county principals. He didn’t get the chance.

Uncompromising Attitudes

Only at Shelby County Schools could such a reasonable suggestion be met with such disdain. There, the emphasis on control and oneupsmanship and the “it’s my way or the highway” approach to most things seems more suited for the playground.

One thing is certain: Mr. Johnson was right in his attempt at statesmanship and he was right when he said that the feuding isn’t in the best interests of the students.

Most of all, Dr. Johnson knows that relations between Shelby County Government and Shelby County Schools have never been so bad. He also knows that the district can only thumb its nose at county government for just so long.


elaine said...

My niece and nephew are in that district. Apparently their school is so overcrowded and underfunded that several families in their neighborhood are fed up and are starting their own group home school next year. My sister in law said that she has spent so much of her time and money on her kids' school that she might as well just run a school by herself. Unfortunately, the involved parents like her are giving up on the public school system, leaving the schools without the support they need. And thus the schools decline further and further.

Zippy the giver said...

I don't think MCS has plans on sandbagging or co-opting students to get better stats as a plan to improve theirs. It better not or it's more biz as usual, like the county, aparently, kids are dead last there too.
The Hallmark of Memphis, no quality education.