The situation regarding the consolidation of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools has turned into one of the uglier chapters in the history of Memphis.
In January, Southern Educational Strategies, LLC returned with the results of a study on whether it was feasible for the Town of Collierville to establish its own municipal school district. The conservative educational consulting firm had been commissioned to do the study back in September. It concluded that Public Chapter 1 of the 2011 Acts of Tennessee had revived the power of municipalities such as Collierville to create municipal school districts. Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner, other town officials and residents also were told that a Collierville municipal district would have the legal authority to receive the transfer and control of school facilities that exist now within its boundaries, and for no cost.
Tennessee Senate Majority Leader, Mark Norris, a Republican who represents the Collierville community, authored the legislation that Southern Educational Strategies relied upon in its study. Subsequently, other suburban mayors – Keith McDonald of Bartlett, Sharon Goldsworthy of Germantown, and even the embattled and now former Mayor of Millington, Richard Hodges – have all explored the idea of forming their own school systems.
School unity is both a nationwide and statewide trend. In Tennessee, 12 city school districts have merged with their county schools in the past few decades. Memphis is the only urban school district in the state that continues to be separate from its county district.
Each school merger scenario is different, and there is ample academic research to show that school merger is not just about education. There are studies that show significant savings in administrative costs, but fewer savings elsewhere. Such studies also suggest an “optimum size” for school districts that is lower than the current size of Memphis City Schools. So, if we do merge systems, we should move to a system with four to five area school districts, each with a little over 30,000 students, run by a superintendent but overseen by a unified school board and a school chancellor.
The suburban communities are exemplifying racial intolerance and a basic desire not to be a part of any larger community. Since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. here in Memphis in 1968, many civic, clergy and political leaders have worked tirelessly to heal the city’s racial divide. Ninth Congressional District Rep. Steve Cohen and Mayor A C Wharton Jr. have designed programs and initiatives to address the need for racial healing.
The suburban communities are sending a horrible message of intolerance to our community. This type of behavior begs the question: “When will racism stop?” We will not grow as a city until racial intolerance stops!