Schools battle: It's only just begun

The picture on our front page shows Memphis City Schools board members Martavius Jones and Tomeka Hart jubilant over the landslide affirmation from Memphis voters of their move to surrender the charter to force schools consolidation with suburban schools. Like others, they would later be talking about the really hard, important work that lies ahead, referring to the process of unifying schools.

But judging from the reactions of suburban referendum opponents, the hard political fights are probably also just beginning for those in the city. Setting aside for a moment the issue of a unified school board and the state legislation from State Sen. Mark Norris, the battle over defining the meaning of Tuesday's results is going to continue.

Before the polls closed, Shelby County Election Commissioner Bill Giannini, a Republican from Lakeland, was using a line early and often about the "real winner" being the "I don't know vote." That ball got passed around a lot, with most suburban opponents constantly emphasizing that "only" about 72,000 of Memphis's 420,000-plus registered voters participated (or 17 percent). Amy Howell, owner of a public relations firm helping Norris, was on Twitter borderline dismissing the results because of the turnout.

There are many points to make here about turnout -- yesterday's rain surely depressed late turnout, though not by enough to claim it kept tens of thousands of people away. The odd timing of the March vote guaranteed a lot of people would bypass it, no matter the perceived importance of schools. The fact that very little money was spent trying to get people out to vote, by either side.

Once the referendum was set, the onus was always on those arguing MCS should stay intact. Fewer than 25,000 voted to keep the current system. It speaks volumes that people were not packing the polls to keep MCS from dissolving. Larger than that, a 67-percent vote for one county school system is going to give lawyers arguing the city's legal side a very powerful tool.  And the fact that a 72,000-person sample that appeared to represent a balanced cross-section of the city's population provides a very reliable gauge of public sentiment.

I sent out a tweet to Howell that said, "Good luck to the lawyer who argues this blowout somehow whiffed on capturing Memphis citizens' wishes." Her reply indicated there may have been a coordinated messaging effort underway among suburbanites: "Watch and learn! Time will tell. I think the entire thing is a disaster."

For a good read on the issues to untangle next, go read Sherri Drake Silence's fine piece from this morning.


Is she related to Michael Silence in Knoxville?

I knew there was some reason I never took that Amy Howell person seriously.

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As the process for merging Shelby County's schools accelerates into action, we'll provide bonus coverage here at, with a particular focus on the 21-member transition team and the 23-member unified school board. Comment early and often. If you have any tips or suggestions you wish to share, contact Zack McMillin at or 529-2564.

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