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MEA calls ‘mass meeting’ against charter surrender

  • Written by Dr. Sybill C. Mitchell
  • Published in News
Memphis Education President Keith Williams is sounding the alarm against surrendering the Memphis City Schools charter and ceding control to Shelby County Schools. Thousands of Memphis City School employees will lose their jobs. More than $1 billion will transfer to the county’s control. Scores of optional, adult education and resource programs will disappear.

That is the alarm that Memphis Education President Keith Williams is sounding against surrendering the Memphis City Schools charter and ceding control to Shelby County Schools.

A massive email campaign is underway to mobilize thousands of employees, parents, pastors, students and community leaders to pack the East High School auditorium at 4:15 p.m. on Tuesday. The mass meeting is designed to recall a spirit of activism and community organizing that ignited the civil rights era half a century ago.

“We must act now, and we must act decisively,” said Williams. “From that hall, we will send a message to our elected officials on the school board that we will not support this action. We will not throw up our hands and give up on our own children.”

The dissolution of the MCS system would mean “our children being handed over to a system that does not want them” with most MCS employees losing their jobs, Williams told the Tri-State Defender on Wednesday.

“The schools lose more than $100 million if we give up our charter. We need to get in there and do the work to fix our own schools. A terrible message is being sent to our children. We’ll send a louder message on Tuesday: ‘No, we will not surrender our charter.’”

Since the school board’s Dec. 20 vote to surrender the charter and effectively put the issue before voters, a firestorm has erupted between advocates of the measure and its opponents. School board member Dr. Kenneth T. Whalum Jr., a most vocal opponent of the move, said the mass meeting is “urgently needed,” calling charter surrender “the most critical issue in Memphis since the assassination of Dr. King.”

Whalum, who is expected to speak at Tuesday’s rally, blasted State Rep. G.A. Hardaway during a recent debate on radio for “rushing the vote.”

“You’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Why are all these elected officials, both black and white, rushing to get Memphis voters to approve the surrender now? Just follow the money, and we’ll find out why.”

Whalum said Williams understands the urgency of the matter.

“We’ve got to call everyone together and really lay out the facts. Voters will not be voting to surrender the charter. If we read the language of the resolution, the school board has already surrendered the charter. They have washed their hands of our children. What people will go to the polls and vote on is whether or not to transfer the management of MCS to the county. From the time they voted ‘yes,’ they surrendered the charter and abandoned our children.”

In an email to city, county and school elected officials, Hardaway urged that “both the letter and spirit of the law be followed” by sending  “this question on surrendering the charter to the referendum asap (as soon as possible).

“The citizens of Memphis deserve to be heard on this question at the ballot box,” Hardaway said. “I urge the MCS Commissioners to let the citizens of Memphis have their day at the polls to vote the surrender question up or down.”

The mass meeting is just the first of a series of actions planned to defeat the school charter move at the polls, said Williams.

“We will never hand our children over to folk who don’t care about them,” said Williams.

(East High School is located at 3206 Poplar Ave. For more information on the upcoming rally, call MEA at 901-454-9802.)

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