Roy Exum: How Do We Stop This?

Friday, May 19, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Candice McQueen, who left absolutely no doubt she has already placed five of Hamilton County’s inner-city schools under “state intervention,” came across like a case of terminal disease at a called workshop meeting of the School Board on Thursday night. The Commissioner of Education, who was evermore at her despicable worst, threatened everyone within the range of her voice as she presented the most outlandish partnership anyone in the meeting has ever heard.

And I’d be willing to bet “The Battle of Chattanooga” just awakened after a snooze of over 150 years. Her threat was to completely take over the five failing schools with her state-run Achievement School District (ASD), which is recognized in every corner of Tennessee as tearing Memphis public education asunder. After five years, the worst schools in Memphis are still the worst schools in Memphis and Candice, ever the opportunist, is frantically trying to rush Hamilton County leaders into what I believe is a carefully-constructed ploy.

She is forcing the School Board to accept a bogus and decidedly unfair “partnership zone” that will be run by “the state” (that’s political-speak for McQueen) and put the Hamilton County Board of Education in a preposterous financial arrangement. Here President Trump is pressing a billion-dollar “free choice” program while there are already federal cutbacks in education. You darn right Candice needs a “letter of intent” real quick!

If we connect the dots, the pillage and waste of $500 million in federal money by McQueen and her minions can be viewed all over Memphis. Trust me, when the latest test scores are revealed this summer, the ASD will be proven as a colossal failure, bad enough to exile McQueen from any education circles for life. Yet she threatens to take our children at five inner-schools on a Titanic voyage if she doesn’t get that letter in a hurry!

It is hardly a stretch to sense her plan is to create a “Partnership Zone” in Chattanooga that she can tout and ballyhoo during the last year of her appointed role under the Haslam administration. She is urging Hamilton County to sign a “letter of intent” immediately to begin the year of planning before actually beginning the new Partnership. Why rush if we’ve got a year to plan? But, oh, she is so brazen she is sweetening the deal with $1 million ”right now” in state seed money.

Don’t you get it? During the planning year, Candice can scurry around like an all-important queen while her reign as commissioner ends in plaudits and hugs. Other states are considering copying the ASD but haven’t yet heard it is lethal.

Forget Memphis – Chattanooga is the new answer! It gets better. She is demanding a five-year agreement when she has no plans of being around and when the seed money most assuredly runs dry. You see, once McQueen is out the state will still control the partnership with a disproportionate number of votes, Chattanooga will be stuck for the financial shortfalls for four more unnegotiable years. Puh-leeze!

Now it appears for all the world Chattanooga will be the stage of her swan song unless she can get an extension-of-office under the next Republican governor. Truth is, any candidate that includes McQueen as a possible cabinet member will not get enough votes after her shenanigans in Memphis and now Chattanooga. But this way she has a year to wipe the memory off all the state computers by moving her circus from Memphis.

Which brings up more election fodder. There are five school board members up for re-election next year and McQueen could care less that a vote by any of them for her ploy will be used by every other candidate. School board seats are shaky at best and already some incumbents are almost toast. This is why I believe Hamilton County is heading into its most critical six weeks since the last superintendent was sent running with his tail between his legs. Believe this, the game is on.

The board hopes to pick five final-finalists from eight one-hour interviews next Thursday night, with the winner announced at the June 15 board meeting. But the superintendent search is once again on the back burner as Hamilton County officials – the mayor and every commissioner now anxious – scramble to stop or at least delay McQueen’s power play.

As McQueen dodged good questions and agreed with the lame, her back was on the audience and she had no idea the room was quietly growing to standing room only. A cursory glance showed every black power-broker in town was showing up on behalf of the 2,600 inner-city children who will be the unwilling pawns of McQueen’s personal agenda.

I wouldn’t trust Candice McQueen any further than the Rev. Steve Highlander, a former UTC wrestler, could throw her. Rev. Highlander, the board chairman, begged a few more weeks before a “memo of understanding” could be drawn so that the new superintendent could take part. McQueen pressed back but now it seems Hamilton County has a (forced) early July deadline.

In a laughable aside, McQueen introduced some “slicks” from Boston whose “Empower Schools” program is so wonderful it will turn round our five stolen schools. But there is this: The program has just been functional in Springfield, Mass., for two years and is being used nowhere else.  How can McQueen possibly try to sell such a pig in a poke? The whole thing is absolutely beyond belief.

My quick solution? A stay from a federal judge. You’ve got 2,600 minority children, all at-risk, who are the last human beings on earth whose lives need to be disrupted. You’ve got a fraudulent partnership agreement that preys on a public and elected Board of Education. You’ve got threats to force a travesty on a county in Tennessee. You have a despot who is clearly out of control.

Get this -- no matter where you look or you ask, it cannot be proven that the Hamilton County Department of Education has not – in fact -- tried mightily to correct an inner-city problem created by fools now long gone. Candice McQueen is exercising state and federal education rules on her own whim and by her own calendar. The court should hold her in contempt and most assuredly call her to be accountable.

Why the Department of Justice has not reined her in after the state of Tennessee Comptroller’s Audit last August uncovered a whopping $750,000 deficit of federal funds – among other improprieties – simply adds to the court’s responsibility to bring this foolishness to an all-time and good-night halt.

royexum@aol.com



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