New debates surface as MCS board votes to surrender charter - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

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New debates surface as MCS board votes to surrender charter

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By Kontji Anthony - bio | email | Facebook
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By Jason Miles - bio | email | Facebook

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - It's being called the most historic vote in the history of Memphis City Schools.  After a marathon meeting that ended just shy of midnight Monday, the Memphis City Schools board passed a resolution that could ultimately end in the consolidation of Memphis and Shelby County schools.

The decision means that in 60 days or less, a special election will be held for Memphis voters to decide if they want to join Shelby County Schools.

Moments before the board voted to transfer the city school system to Shelby County, Superintendent Doctor Kriner Cash made an impassioned speech.

"Now, all of a sudden, somebody ate something or somebody said something and you're ready to get revolutionary," he said.

Cash told board members they shouldn't be so hasty in their reaction to the effort by Shelby County Schools to become a special school district.

But by a Tuesday news conference at MCS headquarters, a new debate had surfaced in the event that Memphis residents actually pass the school consolidation referendum.

"We're running short and low this year in terms of our budget, in terms of our planned budget," Cash said. "And so once again, I'm going to have to make a lot of cuts and hard decisions that will involve personnel."

"My understanding is teachers are the only protected employees," MCS board president Freda Williams added.

But school board Commissioner Martavius Jones disagreed, saying the task of educating 150,000 combined students will need the same number of employees.

"I don't see there being a massive firing of everybody who works for Memphis City Schools," Jones said.

For his part, Cash said if his job is dissolved, he'll endure.

"I decide my future," he said. "I could retire tomorrow.  I'm retired in several states.  So I determine my future."

With the referendum pending, Cash said he will spend his time focusing the staff on teaching and learning.

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When a vote is this controversial, the authors of the resolution usually ask to approve the meeting minutes moments after the vote to make it legally binding.  But that didn't happen Monday night.

"The vote is final," MCS attorney Dorsey Hopson said. "We need to do some more analysis in terms of if there needs to be another step."

If meeting minutes are not approved the same night, it happens at the next meeting or a special meeting is called. But School Board President Freda Williams, who voted against the resolution, doesn't plan to call a special meeting.

"There is no need to have a special meeting to have the minutes approved or to put it on the ballot," she said.

 What makes this more tricky is the fact that Commissioner Sharon Webb, who voted for consolidation, lost her seat, and former Commissioner Sara Lewis is coming back.

Lewis is against consolidating schools, and shared her sentiments at Monday's meeting.

"All I'm asking this board to do tonight is to stand down," she said.

While the Shelby County Election Commission requested a copy of the resolution and the city charter Monday, it's unclear if they can move forward.  And, it's unclear if the incoming commissioner can undo Monday's vote, if she replaces Webb before the meeting minutes are approved.

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Tuesday, Shelby County school board chairman David Pickler said he was not surprised by the MCS board's decision.

"I believe there will be a dramatically negative impact on the taxpayer's throughout Shelby County -- whether you live in Memphis or Shelby County," he said.

Pickler plans to explore every option to keep what he calls "forced consolidation" of city and county schools from occurring.

"Whether it be legal, whether it be legislative, or grass roots politics," he said.

And Pickler is not alone.  State Senator Brian Kelsey of Germantown pre-filed a bill Tuesday afternoon that opens the door to a state take-over of city schools, if a charter surrender is approved by voters.

"I think there are a lot of ideas out there about which direction we should be going, and this is just one option," he said.

Monday night's vote was seen by many as a way to counter the possibility of Shelby County Schools becoming a special school district, and stealing tax dollars from city schools.

Pickler says now that city schools have played their hand, he will look at every option.

"This is a situation that could have profound impact on this community for decades to come," he said.

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