MEMPHIS, TN - Surrendering the Memphis City Schools charter is a backdoor strategy to consolidating city and county government. Those words from Memphis City School Board member Kenneth Whalum Junior during a radio interview Friday.
A caller to the Andrew Clarksenior Show on 600WREC asked if big business is behind the push to surrender the MCS Charter.
"Is this something that FedEx and Fred Smith are behind?" asked a caller identified as "Lee".
"Trust me man," Commissioner Whalum responded, 'I have racked my brain to figure out the source of this idea. And I just don't know."
Whalum says he has suspicions, but no proof of any grand conspiracy behind the effort to dissolve the city school system. The board members supporting it have said they fear a detrimental change in future funding if the system doesn't merge with Shelby County Schools.
Another caller named "Marcus" admitted reluctantly that he favors combining Memphis and Shelby County Schools if it means Superintendent Kriner Cash leaves town.
"I hate to tell you all this," he said, "I'm for consolidation, because Kriner Cash and the rest of the people you work with, I wish we could get rid of them all. And this gives me a window to do that. And that's how most parents feel."
Whalum responded by telling the caller the devil you know is better than the devil you don't.
"I'm the most vocal critic of Dr. Cash's proposals on the board," he said. "But I still say, sir, that you don't throw the baby out with the bath water. I'm really, really sincere about this."
A caller named "Linda" brought up a good point. Shelby County Schools still allows corporal punishment. Memphis City Schools does not, having banned it in 2004. Consolidate the school districts and the option to paddle the students returns.
"Maybe you can put that out there," said the caller, "you know, that corporal punishment is back. How about that?"
"All of the people on the city school board," Whalum replied, "who were against corporal punishment are for consolidation. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense, does it?"
The two-term city school board member is the loudest opponent of giving up the MCS charter. There are just too many unknowns in the deal, he says. The board commissioners who voted for it, he adds, are like bad parents.
"A loving father does not herd all the kids up and take them next door to the neighbor's house and say here, you take care of them. And that's what we are saying to Shelby County. Here are our 105,000 children. You feed them. You take care of them."
Commissioner Whalum is also worried the district could lose its' $100 million dollar grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation if the two school systems consolidate.
But in an email from the foundation, Vicki Phillips, the Director of Education says, "We are committed either way to a continued Memphis City Schools or a consolidated Shelby County Schools, as long as effective teaching and improved outcomes for all students remain a top priority."
Memphis voters head to the polls to decide the charter surrender issue on March 8th.