Your vote still matters in the School Consolidation Referendum

By Ginger Spickler

Back in November when I heard the first reports that the Memphis City School Board was thinking about surrendering the MCS charter to the county, I’ll admit that I thought it sounded crazy. Being a bit of an edu-geek (I read articles about education reform for fun), I knew that when it comes to school systems, bigger does not typically equate to better.

However, as I learned more than I ever wanted to know about special school districts and taxing authorities, I quickly came to the realization that the MCS Board really had no choice but to take this action in order to avert the possibility of a drastic cut in funding to the city schools down the road. In fact, if not for the courageous leadership of board members Martavius Jones and Tomeka Hart, who realized on Election Day that the new Republican majority in the statehouse would likely mean success for Shelby County Schools in its pursuit of a special school district, it might already be too late. The county schools would have its special school district status, and we in the city would be sitting here wondering what hit us.

Since then, of course, there has been action by pretty much every legislative body imaginable. I won’t speculate on the motives of each of these groups, but it’s safe to say that all of the legislation has muddied the waters to the extent that many citizens of Memphis may feel that their vote in the March 8 referendum is, at best, useless and at worst, unwanted.
And yet nothing could be further from the truth. Ultimately, the whole issue is likely to be resolved in court, but an important factor in how that judicial decision is reached will almost certainly be what the will of the people of Memphis is – either for or against consolidation. That is why it is vitally important that every Memphian take the time to learn about the potential charter surrender and then show up to the polls on March 8 to vote their conscience.

For my part, I will be voting for the charter surrender for a number of reasons. First, as I mentioned earlier, I believe it is the only way that we can be assured that the city schools will not have its funding pulled out from under it in the coming years. A school system like MCS, with its high percentage of economically vulnerable students, can ill afford the drop in funding that could come if Shelby County Schools get a special school district. Likewise, the city of Memphis itself would suffer if the city school system is compromised in this way. Anyone who lives anywhere in the Memphis metro area (including residents of the county and even of Mississippi) should be concerned about what a weakened public school system at its heart will mean for the region.

Secondly, I believe that the advent of consolidation could be an amazing opportunity to design a 21st century school system that will better serve the needs of every child in Shelby County – rich or poor, black or white. Each school system has areas of excellence that, if replicated across the county, could mean that the sum of the two systems is more than its parts. In addition, Memphis is already getting major education reform help (and dollars) from entities like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and I believe that more reformers (and funders) could be attracted to a system that would essentially be a blank slate for implementing the most promising reforms on the educational landscape today.
Finally, the strongest argument for a “yes” vote is one that I’ve heard from several quarters, and it’s this – that those who stand on the side of division are rarely judged favorably by history. Indeed, as you look back on the Civil Rights Movement, the heroes were always those arguing for integration of people groups and for the protection of the poor and vulnerable. We look at the pictures of the angry crowds jeering the Little Rock Nine as they attempted to integrate Little Rock Central High School in 1957, and we shake our heads at their ignorance. I don’t ever want my children to look back and see me as one of that angry, fearful crowd, arguing for separation over unity. That’s why I’m voting “yes” on March 8.

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