Why is The Commercial Appeal the only news outlet in town that covers almost every board meeting of the Shelby County Schools and Memphis City Schools? Because of situations like the one
that played out at Thursday's SCS board meeting.
Go read all of Sherri Drake Silence's detailed reporting
on the SCS Board's desire to insure that Superintendent John Aitken receives right at $400,000 in severance from county taxpayers if he is not chosen to be the leader of a unified county school system. Board member Mike Wissman said he pushed the idea forward to insure stability for the currently suburban-only county system, should Memphis voters approve a March 8 referendum to transfer administrative control to the county.
Diane George, the only non-male member of the seven-person board, objected on the basis of not putting yet more taxpayer money at risk. She wanted to have more discussion, but felt that she was being interrupted and otherwise stifled by David Pickler, the SCS board's chairman for 11 of the 12 years it has existed as an elected body. From Sherri's story:
George left the board's conference room abruptly, saying it wasn't fair to taxpayers. "Thank you, Lord," board member Ernest Chism said when George left. The comment drew lots of laughs.
Wissman and board member Joe Clayton, who expressed support of the contract extension, asked if George's early exit could be included in the notes of the meeting.
The question MCS advocates would ask -- if the same thing had happened at an MCS board meeting, would it have received so little notice from the majority of news outlets? Imagine if MCS decided right now to rework Kriner Cash's contract to guarantee him, at minimum, a $400,000 parachute if he is not chosen as superintendent. And how would it have been played if an MCS board of just one woman had featured that woman being interrupted and made fun of by the men when she became upset?
At the Stand For Children forum in Cordova last night, Wissman and Shelby County Commissioner Walter Bailey had an exchange over the lack of diversity represented on the currently all-suburban Shelby County Board of Education. It is inexcusable in this day and age, Bailey alleged, that the Shelby County Board of Education looks like it does -- six white men (three of them retirees) and one white woman. Wissman defended SCS, saying the suburbs are justifiably proud of the results the SCS board has produced over the years. Wissman said Bailey was correct there were no ethnic minorities on the SCS board "but also I guess that's what you call a democracy. ... Whether the new board is all white, all black, all female, nobody can really say how it's going to be broken down. All the county commission is doing is breaking down the districts and it will be up to the voters to decide who they want to represent them."
Suburban opponents of the merger, by the way, are seizing on the comment made by MCS board member Martavius Jones at a Mid-South Tea Party forum in Bartlett: "The automatic combining of the two school systems is not going to make it better. But, I would contend that if Shelby County were given special-school-system status, we would not be able to provide the current level of education that we are providing right now."
To be fair to Jones, I have heard him describe many ways he believes a unified system gives the opportunity to combine the best of both systems to better meet student needs. At the Cordova forum, Germantown parent Ken Hoover (who nearly upset Pickler in the summer elections) refuted that, pointing to a study that he said shows how consolidations actually make education worse for the most at-risk students in a community.