Voters Seek Answers to Memphis & Shelby County School Consolidation Questions

Voters Seek Answers to Memphis & Shelby County School Consolidation Questions

LeMoyne-Owen College and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity hosted a forum about the possible surrender of the Memphis City Schools charter.
MEMPHIS, TN - LeMoyne-Owen College and the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity hosted a forum for those seeking more information about the pros and cons of surrendering the Memphis City Schools charter.

The one thing many in attendance could agree on?  They haven't made up their minds yet.

"I still have several questions," says Shulandra Kerr, "concerning how we would consolidate and how the funding formula would work."

Kerr, like many of the 80 or so people who showed up for the meeting, is still undecided, even after listening to hours of debate.

Shelby County School Board Chairman David Pickler explained why his system wants state law changed so they can gain special district status.  The designation would freeze SCS boundaries, making future annexation or consolidation impossible.

"We have a district we believe is the right size," says Pickler.  "Studies show the optimal size is between 30,000 and 50,000 students.  We have steadfastly maintained that we would like to retain our independence and autonomy."

Memphis School Board member Martavius Jones fears the county's special district plan would alter the current schools funding formula, leaving city schools high and dry.  That's why he sponsored the resolution to give up the MCS charter, effectively forcing consolidation.

"I feel the county's special district status is going to be financially detrimental to Memphis," he tells abc24.com.

But Chairman Pickler says if MCS goes ahead and surrenders its' charter, the city school system could lose $78 million or more in local, state and federal funding.

Money issues aside, Reverend Dwight Montgomery, the President of the Memphis chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, opposes such a sudden surrender.  The effect of consolidation on the city's impoverished students, he says, is the unknown he worries about the most.

"I have not gotten answers," he says, "as to what it is going to do, directly or specifically, to help the children, to better the socio-economic conditions in their neighborhoods."

On the flip side, the local branch of the NAACP supports school consolidation and the voters right to choose. President Warner Dickerson is also a former school superintendent.

"The people need to vote,"  he says, "because this is the best opportunity to do what's best for the kids."

Whether or not that's true, is something voters like Shulandra Kerr don't yet know.

"I have not made up my mind," she tells abc24.com.  "I still am not fully aware of all the issues that are impacting our schools."

The Shelby County Election Commission meets next week, tentatively to set a March election date for city voters.  But a resolution moving quickly through the legislature in Nashville would give county voters a say, if passed. 

The Memphis School Board, at its' next meeting, will also consider rescinding its' original decision to surrender the charter, pending an agreement being worked out with the Shelby County School Board.



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