Categorized | Opinion

No Black & White

By Brian Bloom

A metro daily newspaper columnist opined Sunday that the school merger issue between the Memphis Consolidated Schools and suburban school supporters was as simplistic as race. Then again, this columnist tends to believe in a world of black and white, and all too often, black versus white, while wondering in print why those two worlds can’t come together.

The columnist stated the reason suburbia citizens wanted their own district was unequivocally race-related. While I’m not so naïve to believe race plays a role, I’m also not so ignorant to believe it to be the all-encompassing issue in educating our young.

“Might the suburbs finally revise their raison d’être (reason for existence) to ensure that no matter the cost or consequences, their children will not sit under the umbrella of a unified school system that includes so much as a single city teacher, teacher’s aide, principal, administrator, custodian, secretary or cafeteria lady,” the columnist wrote.

The answer is – she’s right – if these city teachers, teacher’s aides, principals and administrators are to blame for test scores so poor as to ensure failure from students. She’s right if it’s to mean suburban interests don’t mesh with administrative-heavy budgets with little to no expectations from the classroom.

She’s right if it’s to mean the citizens in Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Millington, Lakeland and Arlington expect and demand more from their educators.

She’s right if these communities recognize a stacked deck. That the make-up of the unified school board is tantamount to taxation without representation as the block voting of the elected officials will always side to the city.

She’s right if local communities want to maintain their own structures, ensuring buildings will remain viable well beyond expected lifetimes.

She’s right if we want to make sure that the student sitting next to our children is there to learn.

She’s right if she assumes people moved to these Shelby County communities to get away from the education chaos that is Memphis City Schools. But she’s wrong – so very, very wrong, if she believes all of these families are of one race, one nationality or one creed.

Suburban Memphis grew not from white flight, but economic flight. Because these people share the responsibility together to form communities that, far from perfect, recognize the importance of education in getting ahead. For many the price of providing that education for their children is financial hardship for themselves.

Today, most are willing to continue that hardship, through tax initiatives and legal battles to make certain our young people have a chance to succeed in a world that’s not so simple as black and white.

While we applaud the stand of our elected officials to fight the good fight, we also recognize the slippery slope of taxation without specific allocation.

In the weeks leading up to the half-cent sales tax initiative, local officials were quick to state that if the schools did not come to be, the half-cent sales tax would be eliminated. Today, with various legal venues still being sought, these same politicians are hedging their bets.

Elected leaders in the suburban cities have always noted that a portion of the initial tax proceeds would be used to offset legal bills. They have never said – beyond the generic ‘education spending’  – what would happen to the rest.

If the plan is to continue accepting the half-cent sales tax monies and comprehensive plan of where that money will be spent – specific and to the penny– should be made public.

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