Recently in Consolidation Category

MCS/SCS unification: Where's the plan?

Much has been made about the absence of a detailed plan that would govern the merger of the Memphis City Schools with the Shelby County Schools.

This isn't about the mandated plan that Republican governor Bill Haslam is now requiring the districts to come up with by Feb. 15, the day before early voting is scheduled to begin for the March 8 referendum to approve the MCS charter surrender.

But what about the Shelby County Schools' plans - either for special school district status or a contingency plan as the agency responsible for education countywide?

The case could be made that since the county alone bears the entire responsibility for educating all the children who live in that county, that the Shelby County Schools should already have some sort of contingency plan for if the MCS ever surrender its charter. It doesn't appear that such a plan exists.

But, as a reader pointed out in an e-mail to me today, the Shelby County Schools have not been compelled to explain, in detail, how the acquisition of special school district status would impact the Memphis City Schools. And on the anti-unification side, no one has been required to come up with a plan for anything.

This reader wrote:

... [H]as anyone demanded that he, Mr.  Pickler, submit a DETAILED PLAN on how this will affect the CITY SCHOOLS, CITY SCHOOL KIDS, CITY SCHOOL TEACHERS, other staff members and CITY SCHOOL FUNDING ???

Does the "bill" submitted in NASHVILLE demand that Shelby County Schools take 3 years to plan for a "special school district" before it can take effect ???

Did the new GOVERNOR demand that a DETAILED PLAN be submitted by Shelby County Schools on a "special school district", not just in the next 2 weeks but EVER ???

Did any of the 4 state senators, who are named in your article, that support this "bill", at anytime demand a DETAILED PLAN from Shelby County Schools BEFORE "special school district" status would be allowed ???..... OR..... Does "special school district" status AUTOMATICALLY go into effect if this bill is approved with ABSOLUTELY NO PLAN AT ALL ???

Thursday forums: Call it consolidation-apalooza!

It's like a great music festival for schools forums today -- four in all, three of them focused on the March 8 referendum to put Shelby County in charge of Memphis's schools. But unfortunately you can't get to all of them because many are running at different times and on different stages, so to speak.

The first to mention is one that did not make it into print today but may provide the most objective information, with Rhodes College professor Marcus Pohlmann and University of Memphis law professor Daniel Kiel. City Councilwoman Wanda Halbert is hosting the forum, tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. at St. Paul Baptist Church, 2124 East Holmes Road, and longtime MCS administrator and board member Sara Lewis is also scheduled to appear. Pohlmann's 2008 book on Memphis City Schools, titled "Opportunity Lost," includes some discussions of pros and cons of consolidating schools, and Kiel has published articles on the mistakes made during desegregation of Memphis schools. Both professors helped us with this article on Sunday laying out the key issues in the March 8 referendum.

A non-consolidation related forum hosted by The Leadership Academy is today from noon to 1:30 at the Holiday Inn-University of Memphis, in the grand ballroom, 3700 Central Avenue. MCS board member Tomeka Hart, president of the Memphis Urban League, is moderating "Celebrate What's Right: School Principals Making Great Strides in Urban Education," with a panel featuring Michelle Armstrong (Middle College High School), Jamal McCall (KIPP Memphis), Mike McIntyre (Germantown High School), Jim Pohlman (Memphis Catholic High School) and Bill Taylor (St. George's Independent School).

Former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton is scheduled to speak tonight at a public meeting on school consolidation issues, possibly adding more heat to an already-boiling debate. He is one of several speakers at the forum hosted by County Commissioner Henri E. Brooks from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Hollywood Community Center, 1560 N. Hollywood.

Shelby County Commissioner Melvin Burgess will host an information session on school consolidation from 6 to 7:30 tonight in the Snowden School cafeteria, 1870 N. Parkway. Councilman Jim Strickland and MCS board member Jeff Warren are the guests.

Come here to chat tonight during the schools consolidation debate


Zack McMillin, who has been covering the schools consolidation issue for The Commercial Appeal, will lead a live chat during tonight's debate. The debate is co-sponsored by The Commercial Appeal and WREG-TV Channel 3 and will be shown live from 5:30-7 p.m.

To join in, just check back here any time during the televised debate and be ready to give your opinion.

Schools forums provide info, education

For anyone wanting more direct information from those most deeply involved in Shelby County's public schools showdown, there are many opportunities upcoming and we will post updates when we hear of more.

The first of which is at 11 this morning at Germantown Country Club, where Shelby County Schools board chairman David Pickler will speak to the Shelby County Republican Women's Club on "State of our Schools: Issues and Updates for Public Education in Shelby County."

The Memphis Education Association, the union for Memphis City Schools teachers, is hosting a 4:15 p.m. rally today at East High School. The MEA leaders say the teachers are opposed to forcing consolidation with Shelby County Schools via charter surrender or transfer of administrative control to the county.

The Memphis City Schools will have its regular work session Thursday evening at the Board of Education. It was rescheduled after being canceled because of weather on Monday.

The most balanced presentation, which has been rescheduled from this evening to next Wednesday (Jan. 19), has Stand For Children hosting several people on various sides of the debate for a forum titled, "The Future of Public Education in Shelby County." It is being held at Bridges, 447 N. 5th St. from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

UofM law professor Daniel Keel, whose scholarship has focused on public school issues in Memphis and Shelby County, and MCS board member Martavius Jones, Pickler, County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, and Southern Christian Leadership Conference president Rev. Dwight Montgomery will be panelists.

According to a Stand For Children release, the forum is being held "so that the public may engage in discussion and become better informed on the potential merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools. We feel this information should be shared from both sides and made understandable and accessible to the community."

Votes ahead on policies that impact quality of life

There may be no more important public policy decisions made by the County Commission and the City Council than the votes this week expected to approve a new zoning code that aims to create denser mixed-use neighborhoods that emphasize walkability, biking and neighborly interactions. Daniel Connolly writes about it previewing today's Commission meetings, pointing out it will change the face of the city. Proponents say it will greatly improve the quality of life and provides a longterm blueprint for creating neighborhoods that can make Memphis a more attractive place to live and work.

Daniel also previews the vote on a possible 1.5 percent raise for county firefighters -- with the money not accounted for in the budget the Commission passed using increased property-tax revenue. Interestingly, the proposal to merge the Memphis and Shelby County fire departments would included moving county firefighters to full pay parity with those in Memphis -- but interim mayor Joe Ford killed the idea and moved forward with plans to spend more county money on county-only fire department infrastructure.

Finally, Amos Maki pens a lede as if he's spent some quality time maneuvering a skateboard around Memphis. The city announces it will build a new $440,000 skatepark at Tobey Park near the Board of Education and caddycorner from the Liberty Bowl.

Joe Ford releases statement on consolidation

Interim county mayor Joe Ford, the Democratic county mayoral nominee, sent a statement last night elaborating on his anti-consolidation stance. In Tuesday's forum with Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell, the Republican nominee, Ford pressed Luttrell hard on his views on consolidation, with Luttrell saying he will wait until the Memphis and Shelby County Metropolitan Charter Commission completes its work before making a judgment. By the way, the Charter Commission yesterday approved much-stronger ethics language for the charter, including anti-nepotism provisions; here are Clay Bailey's stories this week about charter commission:

Consolidation commission recommends tougher ethics language in charter
Charter panel to discuss services under consolidation

Find Ford's full statement below. We put Luttrell's expanded comments about consolidation on the blog here earlier this week. Ford clearly intends to be very aggressive on this issue, although as Luttrell points out, the charter will not even be finished before the Aug. 5 election.  It is on the Nov. 2 ballot, and the county mayor has no official role to play.

For Immediate Release
May 12, 2010
Interim Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford Shares His Views on Government Merger

Much has been said about why I am against Memphis and Shelby County government consolidation, the majority of which - that I am pandering to the suburban vote - is completely untrue. Let me state clearly and for the record a few of my views on consolidation and the proposed plan for Memphis and Shelby County government merger.

Can we improve on what government is currently doing? Yes. Can we seek ways to be more efficient in delivering services to residents? Yes. Is consolidation the answer to doing so? No. However, the decision to form a new government based on a consolidation charter developed by the Memphis and Shelby County Metropolitan Government Charter Commission rests with the voters of Memphis and Shelby County. I have always communicated this and will continue to urge all citizens to do their part in making their opinions on the matter known. We all have the power of one vote and we should employ this power wisely.

There is no proof that consolidation is a cost saving venture. There are no studies to confirm that the citizens of Memphis and Shelby County will realize a tax savings by merging governments. As an elected official, it is my duty to evaluate measures that will save taxpayers money and place my full support behind such measures. Consolidation does not save dollars; in fact, we can be assured that an increase will be experienced, particularity by those residing in unincorporated Shelby County and the city of Memphis.

Furthermore, I am greatly concerned about the direction the Memphis and Shelby County Metropolitan Government Charter Commission is moving with proposed plans for consolidation; specifically, the elimination of civil service protections for current government workers and the diminishment of retirement benefits for public servants. I believe our current civil service system should continue as is to provide for a fair and consistent personnel management system for all employees.

In the coming weeks, I plan to share more of my views on consolidation and why I believe the merging of Memphis and Shelby County governments is not a good idea for the over 900,000 residents that I represent.

Joe Ford
Interim Shelby County Mayor 

Full quotes from Ford, Luttrell on consolidation

The story we ran today about the county mayoral campaign forum between interim mayor Joe Ford and Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell touches on their differing approaches to the issue of consolidating the two governments of Memphis and Shelby County into one metropolitan government. The Memphis and Shelby County Metropolitan Charter Commission is charged with creating a metro charter, due in mid-August, that voters would consider in a pair of referenda on Nov. 2 -- voters in the city must give majority approval, and voters outside the city must give majority approval. The mayoral election is on the Aug. 5 ballot, before the Charter Commission must deliver its final charter language.

Because it can be such a volatile issue -- not to mention often misunderstood and manipulated -- it seems fair to publish fuller quotes from both candidates on the issue. In an intriguing twist, Ford is coming out completely against consolidation well ahead of seeing the charter, while Luttrell has said consistently -- going back to before he entered the mayor's race -- that he will wait to see the document before judging it on its merits.  

Perhaps Ford believes he can pick off some votes in the suburbs on this issue alone. Perhaps he takes for granted those Democratic voters in Memphis who believe consolidation should at least be given serious consideration. And perhaps he's locking down loyalty from those African-American inner-city residents opposed to consolidation because they may see it as an attempt to dilute their voting power.

Conversely, perhaps Luttrell is so confident enough that the suburban Republicans most opposed to consolidation will never vote for a Ford that he can stay neutral on the issue through the end of the campaign without sustaining any damage. Luttrell also knows he needs to win votes from Democrats in Memphis, and one potential group to target would be middle-class and upper-class Memphis Democrats who support consolidation.

Of course, less cynically, both Ford and Luttrell could just be stating what they think is best for the county at this time, regardless of the political algebra.

Because consolidation can be such a volatile issue, I wanted to publish their fuller comments on the issue. First, from the beginning of the forum, on a question that asked about finding areas within the current structure of two large governments where there could be functional efficiencies:

FORD: My comment would be I'm against it, I don't believe it will pass and that's about where I'm going to leave it. I don't know how else to comment on something I am going to vote against.

LUTTRELL: You are going to hear me time and again come back to the importance of looking for efficiencies and cost savings to provide quality service. Every operation of county government should b closely scrutinized, first of all by the mayor and then the county commission, to determine how we can be more effective and more efficient. Consolidation is certainly a question that's on the table  this year and it will be decided by the voters in November. But there are ways to look for efficiency other than consolidation. I think we've got to wait and see what the Charter Commission puts on the table, take a look at the merits of their argument. But if consolidation fails there are things that can be done in cooperation with city government to bring about efficiency. We've got to look at overlapping services, we've got to look at where we can consolidate or merge overlapping services and see if we can achieve efficiencies by cooperating with city government on issues that come before us.

Then, from the end, when Ford was given the chance to ask questions of Luttrell and chose just one:

FORD: Sheriff Luttrell, what is your view on consolidation and how will you vote? I can look everybody in the eye and tell you Joe Ford is against consolidation, period.

LUTTRELL: I have not been an advocate or a proponent of consolidation. One of the things we hear most often as a criticism of public officials is we don't listen. I've always prided myself on listening to what people have to say. Now we have a charter commission that is doing its due diligence right now, and I don't know what they are going to put on the table -- I honestly don't know what they are going to put on the table.

But the beauty of this whole issue of consolidation is Mayor Ford and Mayor Luttrell is not going to decide the issue of consolidation, the City Council and the County Commission are not going to decide the issue of consolidation. Consolidation will be decided by you, the voters. And I want to see what the Charter Commission puts on the table and then, like you, draw my conclusions. But to say you are against something and you don't even know what it is, to me is an injustice to the work that the County Commission and City Council have done, as well as the Charter Commission. We owe it to you the citizens to see what the Charter Commission proposes. I'm waiting to be convinced. At this point I'm not convinced. So let's wait and see what they have to say.

Rufus Washington spoke here


Rufus Washington, chairman of the Metropolitan Government Charter Commission's public safety task force, can add some pretty entertaining statements to the group's meetings.

Several weeks ago, during one of his presentations from the task force, he was referring to fellow member Richard Hodges, the mayor of Millington, and how he learned to appreciate Hodges' approach.

"You're as country as a sack of cotton," Washington said with a nod to the mayor, "but you're a good ol' boy."

When he finally finished his presentation and the resulting debate that stretched well past an hour, Julie Ellis, the commission chairwoman,  congratulated him on getting all but the sheriff's debate endorsed by the full consolidation commission.

"It doesn't matter," Washington said in a deadpan voice, "I was retiring anyway."

Cancellation by eruption


A local appearance by former Indianapolis mayor Stephen Goldsmith was canceled earlier this week because of an event halfway around the world.

Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor who is advising Rebuild Government on the benefits of a revamped government, was one of the thousands of travelers grounded by the volcanic ash from an Icelandic eruption.

He was stranded in London when he was supposed to speak Monday at the Holiday Inn at the University of Memphis. Rebuild Government was hosting the event, which also included Goldsmith signing books he's written about  government.

Rebuild Government is a group of citizens and civic leaders promoting small group conversations regarding consolidation. They are forwarding that information to the Metropolitan Government Charter Commission, which is drafting the charter to merge Memphis and Shelby County governments that voters will consider Nov. 2.

Goldsmith already has penned one report on law enforcement, and articles on several other topics are expected.

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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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