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Stakeholders chart next steps after voters choose surrender

With the weight of a “yes” vote clearly registered on surrendering the Memphis City Schools charter, myriad stakeholders are busy charting next steps. by Tony Jones
Special to the Tri-State Defender

With the weight of a “yes” vote clearly registered on surrendering the Memphis City Schools charter, myriad stakeholders are busy charting next steps.

Movement – or word of such – started taking shape early Wednesday in the wake of a decisive margin on Tuesday in favor of transferring administration of Memphis City Schools to Shelby County Schools.

Memphis City Schools Supt. Dr. Kriner Cash and MCS Board of Commissioners used a morning press conference to discuss next steps after voters decided to surrender the City Schools charter. (Photos by Earl Stanback).

Memphis voters – 17 percent of them – on Tuesday decided that Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools should be under one administration. The next day, Shelby County Schools officials attended a MCS press conference.

rly morning press conferences by Shelby County Schools and Memphis City Schools yielded assurances that the daily charge of educating students was proceeding as usual – separately – and that reasonable steps were being made to line up with a new state law that frames a version of the transition process. According to the new law, a transition committee with 21 members is to work its way toward a merger, trekking through a 2 1/2 year transition process.

By Mid-afternoon on Wednesday, Shelby County Board of Commissioner’s Chairman Sidney Chism, in conjunction with Chairman Pro Tempore Mike Carpenter, had released information on the procedure for an interview/appointment process for a different track – a 25-member Unified Shelby County School Board. The application deadline is March 22, with interviews to be conducted March 23 in the Commissioners Conference Room.

More lawsuits and time spent in court is on most people’s radar.

Meanwhile, MCS Board of Education Commissioner Dr. Kenneth T. Whalum Jr., was actively pointing out that the small voter turnout (17 percent of the city’s registered voters) reflects a major disconnect between elected leaders and the voting public and was an indication that MCS had failed in its task.

Whalum was critical of the local NAACP, noting that the Memphis Chapter’s annual gala was held on the day of the election, speculating about the amount of corporate money raised and then saying, “Wonder why they supported the surrender?”

A most ardent opponent of surrendering the MCS charter, Whalum said the lack of voter passion could be blamed directly on the city’s black media.

“I think the black media, including this newspaper (the Tri-State Defender), the black radio stations like WDIA and WLOK that used to represent the black community, failed to address the issue properly and it’s a sin and a shame.”

The polls closed at 7 p.m. on Tuesday and signs of the outcome became apparent early.

“We can go home already!” crowed Chism less than one hour later.

Chism’s comment and wide smile reflected the elation evident at the headquarters of Citizens For A Better Education, the grassroots advocacy group pushing for – and getting – a “Yes” vote on the question of whether to turn the administration of Memphis City Schools (MCS) over to the Shelby County Board of Education.

Memphians voted in trickles, with the totals amounting to 47,812 voting for the surrender and 23,612 voting no.

Martavius Jones, a most visible and active point man for the charter surrender move, dedicated a number of 18-to-21-hour days pushing the issue. He saw it as a preemptive step against Shelby County Schools reaching for Special School District, and ultimately leaving City Schools in a financial pinch that would seriously challenge the ability to deliver quality education.

“It was all worth it,” he said Tuesday night. “Every moment…. A win is a win.”

City Councilman Shea Flinn also was on hand.

“This provides a tremendous opportunity for us to be the game changer in urban education,” said Flinn, noting that 1968 (the year that the Sanitation Workers Strike and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sent out haunting images of Memphis) gets farther away everyday.

“It is time we show the world that we can come together and go forward.”

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