MEMPHIS, TN - Who will decide the fate of the Memphis City School system? Will it be voters, a judge or the Memphis City School Board? There has been speculation about a newly sworn-in member of the Memphis City School Board having the ability to reverse the decision to surrender the charter. Now, we've learned those plans could be out of the question with a new position by another MCS board member.
abc24.com spoke with MCS Board Member Betty Mallott Monday night. She is one of the four who originally voted against dissolving the schools' charter. Despite that position, she says she won't support any efforts to rescind that vote, because she wants to stick behind the full board's original decision. She says a vote by the citizens of Memphis is a “reasonable solution to our predicament.”
All this speculation about a possible reversal of the board's decision began with the addition of Sara Lewis to the board. She was sworn in Monday night.
“It's about the children, it's about the children, it's about the children," said a very emotional Sara Lewis Monday night.
Lewis has been at the center of talk about reversing what the school board did December 20th, 2010. Five members to four, they voted to dissolve the charter. Lewis replaces Sharon Webb who supported the move.
abc24.com asked Lewis what her first plan in office was.
“To go home and sit down,” she said.
We asked her if she had any plans to call a special meeting, she said she wasn’t and would not discuss the issue of charter surrender with reporters.
Commissioner Dr. Kenneth Whalum, who was also sworn in, says he's focusing on fighting the issue with the voters.
“My position is we're going to defeat the referendum,” said Dr. Whalum. “I'm acting like there's going to be an election, there's going to be a vote. My point is I don't believe the citizens of Memphis want to surrender our system. I think they want to fix our system.”
Commissioner Stephanie Gatewood, who voted for the charter, says it should be up to the people.
“At the end of the day, I still believe in democracy at its greatest,” Gatewood said. “And I think that if I change my vote, then what we're doing is taking the power from the people.”
Shelby County School Board Chairman David Pickler hopes the Memphis Board will reverse course, but he's ready for a legal and legislative fight if that doesn't happen.
“We firmly believe that the Memphis City School Board giving up its charter and having this forced consolidation without having any plans, without any understanding of the implications, is not in the best educational interests of the children of Memphis or Shelby County, and, therefore, that's why we will be fighting it,” said Chairman Pickler.
He says he'll also begin educating the voters on what a combined school district would mean.
“We are looking at the very real possibility where the people of Memphis are going to be asked to vote on something which they have no idea what they're voting on,” Pickler said. “They have no idea of the consequences of the impact of this action.”
Betty Mallott says she's indirectly heard talk of a special meeting being called, but she says, without her support, it looks like they wouldn't have the votes to override the board's earlier decision. She says it would take new strong information before she would go against the original ruling of the board.
Once the Election Commission has set a date for the referendum to be voted on by the people in the City of Memphis, there's nothing the school board can do about it. That's expected to happen at its meeting Wednesday.