Thursday, August 14, 2008

Trying To Start A "Real" Conversation About School Funding

Shelby County Commissioner Mike Carpenter continues his one-man campaign to spark a serious discussion about school funding.

In fact, at a time when the fallout from Memphis City Council’s cut in school funding could conceivably end up affecting the county budget, he’s about the only person there who seems to be talking about this issue.

In fact, on his own and at his own expense, he’s put together a website where he’s trying valiantly to get the community conversation under way that is needed about the funding of public education.

A URL To Remember

You can find his website at, and all of us should take the time to voice our opinions and join in.

To quote Mr. Carpenter’s description of his purpose from his website: “A ‘perfect storm’ has developed around the issue of school funding. It seems every week that a new plan for improving our schools emerges. This site is part of a community wide conversation to create a plan for adequate and equitable funding of our schools.

“We don’t profess to have the answers, but with your help, open-mindedness and creativity, we believe we can find an answer – an answer that guarantees every child in Shelby County a fighting chance at success through a quality education.”

Six Questions Worth Answering

To start the conversation, Commissioner Carpenter is asking for answers on six questions:

1. Which governmental entity or entities should have responsibility for funding schools? Why?

2. What funding streams (i.e. taxes, fees, etc.) are most appropriate for funding our schools? Why?

3. How do you define equitable funding of schools and how do we achieve it?

4. What are the advantages and/or disadvantages of a Joint Board of Control? If there were a JBC, to what functions should it be limited, if any?

5. What are the advantages and/or disadvantages of establishing special school districts? If new special school districts were established for MCS and SCS, should they have taxing authority? Why or why not?

6. What are the advantages and/or disadvantages of the City of Memphis taking over Memphis City Schools and appointing the school board and superintendent? Under this scenario, who should be responsible for funding Memphis City Schools.

Riding The Wave

All of this seems characteristic of Commissioner Carpenter. Since joining the Shelby County Board of Commissioners’ wave of new faces, he has defied predictions and has often been a bridge over various divides on the legislative body. In doing so, he often resists the doctrinaire positions that too often consume partisan elected groups and frequently asks the kinds of questions that illuminate issues. Meanwhile, his positions are characterized by their independent thinking, and that’s always welcome on local legislative bodies.

In many respects, the Board of Commissioners seems to be settling down after a year-long shake-out period when Democrats flexed their newfound majority, sometimes on issues of questionable civic importance but of perceived political symbolism (aimed at reminding everyone that they were now in charge).

When Shelby County elections became partisan, county government descended into the pit of partisanship. It came in a government that had been relatively free of it, but the Republican Party at the time saw political advantage and could not resist.

The Tide Turns

At the time, the Republican Party was led by a local plastic surgeon who saw partisan elections as a way to cling to county offices as the wave of African-American voters surged. Appropriately, it took a plastic surgeon to put a pretty face on partisan elections, because in time, they did precisely what so many feared – they institutionalized the racial divide in Shelby County.

In this highly-charged atmosphere of partisan politics, every vote was treated as a test of party purity, diminishing the chances for compromise and weakening the lines of communications between Democrats and Republicans.

That tide seems to be turning. The advantage once perceived by the Republican Party is rapidly becoming a footnote in the local political history. That fact was punctuated by recent county elections which swept Democrats into offices in which no one from their party has served.

Post Racial

In recent days, inspired by the candidacy of Senator Barack Obama, the possibility has been raised that we are now living in a post-racial world. In advance of the stunning victory by Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen in his primary, Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton even took up the theme.

We fear that it is largely an exercise in wishful thinking, but it does seen inescapable that the times are a’changing, and we should all do our part to speed up the progress.

As for us, while there may be a question about whether Memphis is now in a post-racial world, one thing is for certain. We are in fact in a post-Republican one.

1 comment:

Zippy the giver said...

Has he seen Jeff Warren's proposal?