Yesterday the Lunch Hour Republicans hosted County Commissioner Chris Thomas. His thoughts on consolidation of city and county schools were quite enlightening.
“It’s really about money and power,” Thomas said. “The city doesn’t want to pay the $80 million it owes the school system.” It is also, in his opinion and correspondingly, is about the November election and the issue of special school districts. “Special school districts are a way to freeze the boundary lines for schools.” He explained that newly annexed areas of Memphis do not want to change their districts and get swallowed up by the poorly run Memphis City Schools.
“It’s not about race,” he said, “but about the kind of education we want children to have.”
Thomas commented on the Senate bill 25 that passed. “It says if Memphis residents vote to surrender then this kicks into effect. It would remove the prohibition on special school districts. But the City Council may vote to override this. So where are we? Who knows? It changes daily.”
Thomas noted that 72% of Shelby County is Memphis. “A consolidated school district would mean that there would be 25 members of the school board and 18 would be from Memphis.” He doesn’t think that large of a school district could be run well.
“There is no proof that it will improve the schools,” he says, noting that the largest districts “have higher per pupil cost and the lowest scores.” He cites Hamilton County as the model where the combining of city and county schools saw county schools dragged down to a C level, with the city schools staying about the same.
“And everywhere in Tennessee that it’s happened, city AND county taxes both went up. I don’t see disrupting 45,000 or 150,000 students for a system, that at its best ‘probably’ will improve. That’s not good enough. And why are we in such a hurry?”
Asked why the state of Tennesse got involved in our county situation, Thomas replied “for 635 million reasons. That’s the money they kick in. A court ruling has also given the state the right to get involved because of the funds.”
Ideally Thomas would like to leave the county schools alone but divide the city school system into 4 districts. “They could be autonomous except for purchasing.” It would help to have greater involvement by the community and a say in their own development. “Merging won’t help parental involvement.”
Thomas faulted MCS hiring of a private marketing firm to get their message out. “It’s wrong. Public money shouldn’t be used for this and to say they’re unbiased – they’re not. Plus they already got their message out when they surrendered the charter.”
Thomas pointed out that Kriner Cash has been out of town for two weeks, even though all this is happening.
One definite outcome he does see, whatever prevails, is “lawsuits, lawsuits, lawsuits.”
“Where are we?