Sunday, February 08, 2009

Unenthusiastic Reaction To School Taxes Stems From Reality

Someone needs to pass Memphis City Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash a note in poly sci class.

The reluctance of this community to embrace the idea of taxing authority for our dual – and dueling – school systems has nothing to do with our inability to grasp the concept, as he suggested to the Shelby County Board of Commissioners Budget Committee.

More to the point, it has all to do with the district’s inability to prove that it has the capacity to improve student performance if given this power. There’s nothing in our experience that suggests that taxpayers see the educational bureaucracy of both districts as the answers to all that ails both systems.

Big Bucks

After all, between 2003 and 2007, the enrollment of Memphis City Schools fell 11% but the budget rose 19%. On the surface, it would seem that the drop in pupils would allow the district to reduce expenses that more than offset the controversial cut in funding by Memphis City Schools.

The district’s expenditures – which don’t even include the bond payments for school construction made by city and county governments – climbed from $764 million in 2004-2005 to $910 million in the proposed budget for this year. As for Shelby County Schools, its expenditures have increased from $270.6 million in 2005-06 to $324.5 million in 2007-2008.

From the beginning, the school districts’ proposal for taxing authority was fatally flawed and more directed at moving the local legislative bodies out of the checks and balances than establishing a real system of educational accountability. That was self-evidence since the proposal called for the approval of tax hikes by the state legislature, which effectively was an example of legislative shopping by the districts.

Nothing But The Facts

In the end, the concern by the public is if the districts can’t produce excellence with $1.3 billion a year, why should they be trusted with the power to set their own tax rates for public education? And the fact that the verdict is out on one superintendent and the second one appears willing to be a rubber stamp for a politician’s personal agenda certainly doesn’t contribute to a growing sense of confidence.

While Superintendent Cash appears to be doing many things right, the tendency of the district to white wash its problems as simply the inventions of a negative media continues to sap energy and attention needed for more productive things. Most of all, everyone at Memphis City Schools needs to abandon the idea that it has marketing deficits rather than performance deficits.

While there is much to celebrate within the district, most of it is about small pockets of motivated teachers producing remarkable results or an inspired principal changing the culture of a single school. There is precious little about systemic, systemwide change in the culture so that innovation takes root and Memphis City Schools becomes a model urban district.


We were thinking of this as we read the district’s applications for its own charter schools. If anyone outside of the district had filed such a flimsy description and program for a charter school, that person would have been laughed out of the board of commissioners meeting.

The document was about one-tenth of the size of a regular charter application, and the thought behind it seems to be about one-tenth of what should be expected for these “laboratories of innovative urban education.” And yet, the façade of a program got approval in short order.

In its own way, the charter schools plan by Memphis City Schools mirrored some of the concerns about the district. It continues to be long on broad educational objectives and short on specifics, results and change.


Even Cash supporters acknowledge that the period of “on the job training” is challenging and difficult, and off the record, few are willing to predict whether the Cash Administration will in the end be a success or become the transition to a more seasoned reformer of the single most expensive public service in this community.

There is one thing that all sides can agree on: Memphis City Schools remains a long way from the Cash team’s motto of “Breakthrough Leadership, Breakthrough Results.” Here’s hoping that it can get there.


Anonymous said...

The state of Memphis City Schools when Dr. Cash took over speaks volumes about our "local genius" for improvement and about motivation and goals. They "were" MIA!
Now, suddenly, we know more than the person in charge who has yet to be in office long enough to "collect stats" that show exactly "where we are" as far as "lack" WHICH IS NECESSARY TO COMPARE TO THE SANDBAGGED PILE OF LIES generated prior to his appointment.
A I understand it, the teachers are totally against "standardized tests", so hey are going to subvert the new chief's efforts by continued sandbagging and my inside source says it's going on right now!

I've said it before and I'll say it again:
"If you are un-willing to take a look at where you really are, you will never know how to get from there to anywhere".

The quintessential problem in Memphis, fear of our own warts!

Doesn't mean they don't exist. Doesn't mean that everyone else can't see them either. They CAN see them.
The budget does defy logic.
I think that expensive departments need to be identified, then the reasons why need to be made public, then there need to be revues done of every single teacher, and progress reports of each school, and let the firings begin. If the admin won't change, get rid of them. If the teachers won't get on board and continue sandbagging, get rid of them. This isn't rocket science. Other schols do this successfully, Memphis has NO EXCUSE FOR FAILURE and since the staff have been there the longest, teacher and admin, I say FIRE THEM!
Then go out on a search and find the right people from wherever they come from.
Too many people in MCS "ONLY FOR THE MONEY" NOT doing what they love.
That's dangerous.


Anonymous said...

Looks like The President is on the side of Dr. Cash, I knew I liked them.

Anonymous said...

if you are gonna use a Sci-Fi alliteration, its spelled "Soylent"
and schols are spelled schools.

MCS class of what middle school?

Anonymous said...

If anonymous would respond to the posts instead of trying to play gotcha by correcting spelling, it would be productive instead of just a distraction.


Got a solution?
Got a point?

Anonymous said...

distractions are about all we can hope for these days.

Anonymous said...

That's not good enough, unacceptable. I understand the frustration, the fact that a statement like that could be posted is not speaking very well for Memphians.
Let's see what we can do.

It may take some demonstrations.

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