The Memphis City Schools turmoil presents a seize-the-opportunity moment for the state to step in and make dramatic improvements in the city’s troubled public education system, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Thursday during his weekly give-and-take with the Capitol press corps.
Ramsey said the attempt to merge the city school district with Shelby County Schools would be politically difficult. Instead, the state should take over the system, the Blountville Republican said.
Ramsey cited figures showing more people working in the city school system who do not teach than do teach, and he said he learned that the system has more than 500 automobiles.
Ramsey said the figures show that the school system is inefficient.
Memphians this week voted in a referendum to surrender the city school system and merge it with the county schools.
Ramsey said simply redrawing lines and electing new leadership for the schools will not solve the problem. He said the system is failing.
In his press conference Thursday, Ramsey said it would be better to seek someone who could turn the system around rather than merge systems.
“I’m adamant that we need to take this opportunity, seize upon that opportunity,” he said. “If we’d gone down to Memphis and said, ‘Look, over half your schools are on the failing list, (and) we’re going to take this away from the school board and we’re going to start operating this by the state’ — that they would have done that kicking and screaming.
“But the school board has now voted to go out of the school business; the people have now voted to go out of the school business, so this is an opportunity that I think we need to seize upon.”
State lawmakers have already stepped in to extend the process for a potential merger of the schools over two years.
Gov. Bill Haslam has said the Memphis schools predicament presents the possibility of opening more charter schools, an issue he has made part of his overall education reform package.
Ramsey told the Tennessee Press Association last month that the state needed a plan for Memphis because the school system is by far the largest in the state.
The Shelby County controversy comes at a time the state is making broad changes in education. Coming off the Race to the Top success in obtaining $501 million in federal funds for education in 2010 under the administration of Gov. Phil Bredesen, Haslam has proposed reforms that would change the tenure system for teachers, lift the cap on charter schools in the state and have lottery scholarships go toward summer classes.