Rally kicks off push for school referendum

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–>With an event that resembled more of a spiritual revival than a political gathering, supporters of a community school in Bartlett kicked off their push for an upcoming municipal school referendum.

More than 125 people filled the Bethel Church in Bartlett on June 21 to raise awareness of the need to get out and vote on July 16. It’s a vote some have said they are concerned supporters will take for granted. They’ve been down this path before.

“The reason we are here is to get the vote out,” said speaker Erin Berry, who was one of several dignitaries invited to pump up Bartlett school supporters. “Our goal is to continue our work so that we can hit the ground running for the 2014 school year.”

Berry’s words could have resembled deja vu, minus one year. She was one of several school board members elected in 2012, when the first push for municipal districts in Shelby County took place with the hope of a new district for 2013. That push — driven by the Memphis City School’s decision to give up its charter and merge with the Shelby County School system — almost came to fruition.

But at the last minute, the Shelby County municipalities that were set to pull away from the still-to-be-unified SCS lost their battle to separate in federal court. That set the wheels in motion for a change in state law that allowed the municipalities to try again this year.

Trying again is important to Better Bartlett Schools member Jamie Osborn, who was one of the people in charge of handing out yard signs in support of a “Yes” referendum vote during the rally.

“We’re doing this because education is so important to all of our children,” said Osborn, who has two kids at Altruria Elementary. “We want the best school we possible can have for our community.”

Among the speakers at the rally were state Rep. Ron Lollar, one of two legislatures who helped get the state law changed in April that paved the way for the July 16 referendum.

“God promised us a smooth landing, but he did not promise that we wouldn’t have a bumpy road getting there,” said Lollar. “We’ve got an opportunity here. We also have a lot of friends across the state who supported us.”

With the crowd often rising to their feet and applauding their cheerleaders, Lollar even received praise from afar during the rally, presented by Better Bartlett Schools chairman and event emcee Mick Wright. He said that although Sen. Majority Leader Mark Norris — the other state leader who pushed for the new laws — was unable to attend, he wanted those in attendance to know that no one worked harder than Lollar to get the municipal school laws changed.

“But the first thing we’ve got to have, we’ve got to have that vote,” said Lollar, who also said he was chocked up by seeing all the people who had come out in support.

Although that “Yes” vote is expected to happen, some are concerned that it is not a given. Unlike the election in 2012, the referendum is the only issue on the July 16 ballot.   Few ballot issues often lead to lower voter turnouts. It’s also essentially a repeat of what supporters already decided just a year ago, and some leaders have expressed concern that voters may be reluctant to return to the well.

“We still have a long way to go,” said keynote speaker Mayor Keith McDonald. “It’s historic, it’s important. What an insult to (the legislators who made the new law possible) if we don’t get out to vote.”

Even current SCS board members showed up to remind supporters that the fight is far from over. SCS board member David Reaves, who lives in Bartlett, said he’s supporting the city and the school he has always called home.

“Most of us are really united on this,” said Reaves.

“We need to reward quality teachers, not insult them like we have been doing in Shelby County Schools,” he also said, referring to circumstances in the current unified school district that have led to teachers worrying about issues such as possible missed paychecks and even what schools they might be assigned to for the 2013-2014 school year.

Reaves wasn’t the only board member to throw in his hat during the rally.

“I think you have a right to decide if you want to educate your children,” said former MCS and current SCS board member Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr. “You should be angry you didn’t get a voice when all of this mess (the school consolidation) occurred.

“Remember that all of the children belong to all of us,” he said.