Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Memphians vote 'yes' to merge city and county schools

   After a contentious battle between combatants on both sides of the schools merger fight, Memphis voters made it clear in a two-to-one victory on Tuesday (March 8) that the Shelby County Board of Education should in fact assume administrative control of Memphis City Schools, therefore merging the two school districts.
   "It's a good day for Memphis," said former county commissioner Deidre Malone, who co-managed Citizens for Better Education, one of the pro-merger groups promoting "YES for School Unity."
   "While we're disappointed, we're not surprised," David Pickler, chairman of the SCS board, said during an interview after 17 percent of Memphis' more than 420,000 registered voters soundly defeated those opposed to the merger.
   With 100 percent reporting, a total of 71,424 voters had gone to the polls to have their say. Of that number 47,812 (67 percent) voted "YES" for the referendum to dissolve MCS and merge it with SCS, and 23,612 voters (33 percent) voted "NO" to keep the two districts separated.
   State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) -- who crafted a bill that passed both House and Senate and that Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law which would delay the merger, if it should pass, for two and a half years to allow for planning -- spoke in a conciliatory tone when asked how he felt about the historic vote that effectively merges MCS and SCS.
   "This is a watershed event that will give us an opportunity to embrace reform in Shelby County," he said.
   Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said, "We got to start thinking forward now."
   Luttrell's counterpart in the city, Mayor AC Wharton, said, "The rough part of the journey is just beginning."
   Although Memphians used the ballot to determine their own destiny, both proponents and opponents of the merger are expecting several lawsuits and counter lawsuits to be filed. A judge inevitably will rule one way or the other.
   Pickler had said all alone that the issue would be worked out in court. But it was his repeated attempt to push for special school district status for SCS that prompted MCS board commissioner Martavius Jones to author a resolution as a counter measure to surrender MCS's charter, which in fact would force a merger with SCS.
   On Dec. 20, the school board voted 5 to 4 to surrender the district's charter to block the efforts of Pickler and the suburbanites who sought to freeze the boundaries to keep Memphis from consolidating.
   The Memphis City Council has since jumped into the fray to approve the surrender of MCS's charter and subsequently urged voters to decide the fate of MCS in a referendum.
   The County Commission is now seeking applicants so serve on a 25-member unified school board. Currently, there are seven SCS board members and nine MCS board members. Nine more are needed to reach the 25 mark.
   The deadline for applications is March 22. Interviews will be conducted March 23, and appointments will be made March 28, or a date afterward if the Shelby County Election Commission hasn't certified the March 8 referendum vote.
   Now that the referendum has passed, a transition team will be assembled to merge the two districts into one and to determine how best to educate 150,000 students. The unified school system will be called the Shelby County School District.

No comments:

Post a Comment