MEMPHIS, TN - Just two weeks to go until the big school showdown vote on March 8th. And the flurry of informational forums is not letting up. Tuesday night, the heavy hitters were out in full force.
Democratic State Representative G.A. Hardaway hosted a forum at the Glenview Community Center in South Memphis. Among the panelists were Martavius Jones, the Memphis School Board member leading the charge to surrender the district's charter, and former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, a longtime supporter of school consolidation.
Both men say they're disappointed with the early voting totals so far. There are 412,000 registered voters in the city of Memphis. Eleciton officials say 6,112 people have cast ballots in the charter referendum after six days of early voting.
"I am a bit concerned the turnout numbers are low," says Jones. "However, the people going to the polls are going with the attitude that this is best for the children of Shelby County."
"We need to stop all this nonsense," Herenton tells abc24.com. "We need to unify the school system and unify urban and surban and move this community forward. I've been for this for 20 years."
The Glenview forum is enemy territory for Shelby County School Board chairman, David Pickler, the tireless leader of the anti-consolidation forces.
"As long as there are good people out there," says Pickler, "we can all have different points of view. And I'm more than willing to share my perspective about why this is not in the best interest of Shelby County or Memphis City. Anytime we have an opportunity to change the mind of one person, that's a good opportunity."
An hour later, Pickler was among friends at the other forum taking place Tuesday night. The East Shelby Republican Club held an informational session during its regular monthly meeting at the Pickering Center in Germantown.
With March 8th fast approaching, voters are looking for facts on merging the schools anywhere they can get them, in a vote that is the first step toward consolidating city and county governments.
"Of course it is," says Herenton. "The schools represent the biggest obstacle to forming a metro government. I think you are absolutely right. This community will be enlightened if we can merge the two governments."
Chairman Pickler says there's been no movement yet on the federal lawsuit the Shelby County School Board filed to stop the consolidation of city and county schools. He says they're waiting for the judge in the case to set a hearing date.