In the last few days, we’ve seen a number of moves to either delay or propel the effort to surrender the charter of the Memphis City School system. Bill Giannini, chairman of the Shelby County Election Commission, asked the State Election Coordinator for an opinion on whether the Commission should go ahead and set a date for Memphis voters to decide whether they agree with the idea of surrendering the charter of the city schools. The state coordinator says the Memphis City Council has to approve a vote first. I take Giannini at his word that his move was clarifying and not political (some question his motives since he’s the former chairman of the Shelby County GOP). But it seems that the Council’s attorney has a more valid point. Allan Wade’s opinion of the law is that the city really doesn’t have any say in the matter.
Now City Councilman Shea Flinn has turned in a petition that calls for a referendum that would lead to the abolition of the Memphis City Schools, which it turns out, is a special district created by an act of the Tennessee Legislature. Apparently, it’s Flinn’s view that no other approval is needed if the petition, which is allowed by state law, has enough valid signatures (they have 100 names, state law calls for 25). This, according to Flinn, bypasses the school board’s vote entirely.
As we’ve heard a few times by now, this is the only large metro area in Tennessee where the city and county systems haven’t been merged into a single system.
Here’s the thought that crossed my mind today. We’ve seen a dramatic political movement over the last year or so. The call for less government, less bureaucracy and lower taxes has gained a tremendous amount of volume – nationally and locally. The Tea Party has made incredible gains at all levels of government. They have been pushing hard for less government, not more. So here we are, faced with a perfect opportunity to wipe a level of bureaucracy and taxation off the books for good, and it seems the feeling from the right of the local political spectrum is ‘hang on, this smaller government isn’t convenient for us, so we don’t want it.’ That seems to be the same concept that helped scuttle the recent city-county consolidation effort.
Here’s your real chance, Tea Partiers (and conservatives who don’t quite see themselves as being fellow travelers) – if you really believe that smaller government is better – you should be pushing harder for this than anyone else. One system, one administration, one set of taxes to pay for it. The concern that hordes of savage, uneducatable urban youth will flood your schools is baseless. No one is suggesting taking kids from Orange Mound and shipping them to schools in Germantown or Collierville. The most likely immediate outcome is that there will no discernible change to schools in the suburbs. The worry that hordes of savage, overdressed egomaniacal school administrators will pour from the city half of the Board of Education building into the county half is also unlikely. The county schools will bring in enough people to make the trains run on time, but the featherbedding the city system has always been suspect of will go away – and that will save a couple of bucks too.
Tea Party people – here’s your chance to prove the validity of your argument. This is a legitimate way to push for smaller government – and better education for the children of Shelby County. Put up or shut up.