County Commisisoner Steve Basar has been on the job for six months and came by the Midtown Republican Club Tuesday night to update us on what’s going on there.
“I’m enjoying it, but there’s a lot of responsibility. It’s challenging. I’m on the Clarence Thomas side of participation,” he said, referring to the Justice’s tendency to sit back and let others do the talking. It’s an attribute of a wise man.
“You’re not obligated to speak,” fellow commissioner Mike Ritz told Basar. Basar agreed, citing the media’s coverage they get and the tendency of people to take 15 minutes and turn it into a half day rant. “Raising teenagers has helped me and being in corporate America with all the meetings has helped me, too,” he said. “It’s a good fit with my skill sets.”
Since taking office, Basar has volunteered for many jobs, including those on committees and board pertaining to the Bass Pro signage, Downtown Memphis, Shelby Farms Park, Election Reform Advisory committee and the Shelby County Visitors Bureau. He has been working with people to address revitalizing the Sears Crosstown area and getting stimulus money for economic development. Anther project he likes is expanding the Walnut Grove Green area not to be confused with the Midtown Greenline.
Of course the big item for Memphians now is the school merger issue. Basar wants to make sure that officials are true to the pledge that it is not going to hurt Shelby County schools.
Day 1 is August 1st, Basar noted. “We’ve had a dysfunctional school board that can’t decide what to have for lunch,” he lamented. Baser said he had put his thoughts on schools in a guest column called “The Path Forward” in the Daily News. There he wrote:
We do not need to adjust class sizes, resolve salary disparities, and right size school administrative staffing on Day 1. For that reason, I support an increase in funding for one year with the explicit understanding that the seven-member school board we will inherit on Day 1 will make the necessary decisions.
At this point I recommend we settle in for a year of a merged system and begin looking ahead. We need to make sure that we avoid radical changes and those that are made need to be understood and communicated to the key constituents BEFORE they are final. Our leaders need to reassure everyone that there will be minimal changes on Day 1. The SCS board needs to get focused on the important tasks at hand. We need a single superintendent. We do not need to concern ourselves with the name of the district, the logo, and the stationary.
Day 1 is coming fast and we cannot afford to be bogged down by trivial matters. Our school board and the new superintendent need to embrace two distinct challenges. First, we need to focus on defining actions and activities that will result in improving our existing schools and teachers. The merger has been a distraction from the main business at hand – educating.
Our schools should be focused on specific outcomes and measurements. Principals need to be set free and we need to reduce the bureaucracy that is stifling creativity and inhibiting innovation. What is world class, how is it measured, and how do we get there from here?
Second, we need to address the reality of declining enrollment and formulate a strategy to “right size” the administration, underutilized facilities, and support services. We need to make difficult decisions that will result in the reduction of administrative staff. This isn’t easy and I have empathy for those individuals that will be impacted by this merger but the school district cannot continue to be a jobs program.
Basar told us that the current $1.2-$1.3 billion a year budget that the schools have can be streamlined. It is bloated. He pointed out that the City Schools have 472 undefined title positions vs. the County’s 100. And, the administrators are three times as big and making twice as much salary as the County.
That is why he said in his column that “we need to reduce and consolidate schools… Finally, there are several support functions that need to be spun off or re-engineered. We need bus drivers and custodians but they don’t necessarily need to be employees of the school district. Funding for 2013-2014 is going to be a challenge. Increased spending in an environment of declining enrollment is not sustainable and the request for an additional $145 million is unethical. The County Commission will not approve a 25 percent increase in property taxes. We need to find some innovative solutions to the budget crisis. The County Commission and Mayor Mark Luttrell will be working to maximize funding for the unified district.”
It was great to see an elected official with the common sense voters have. Basar was a breath of fresh air. It almost makes me hopeful that things in Memphis can improve.