Behind the Headlines – August 24, 2018

Behind the Headlines – August 24, 2018


– (female narrator)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by: the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – School performance,
the police surveillance trial, and much more
tonight on Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] – I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of The Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight by a
round table of journalists, starting with Toby Sells, news editor of
The Memphis Flyer. Thanks for being here. – Thank you, Eric. – Laura Faith Kebede
is an education reporter with Chalkbeat.
Thank you for being here. – Absolutely. – Karanja Ajanaku
is editor and publisher of The New Tri State Defender. Thanks for being here again.
– My pleasure. – And Bill Dries
is senior reporter with the Memphis Daily News. Let’s start with
school performance and a whole lotta school stuff
that everyone can comment on, but I’m gonna turn
to you first, Laura. The TNReady, the
school, the testing, and the rankings
of all the schools in terms of progress
made and not made, all of that came
out very recently. Talk about your impressions, and we’ll get into,
specifically, some of the iZone, the really challenged
schools within Shelby County, and the impact on
ASDs and charters. But just talk about
first impressions and the general impact
of these test scores. – Well, the
first thing to note is that these scores are the
second of the state’s new test, TNReady, so this
is the first time we’re able to truly
compare one to another for elementary and
middle schools, and one of the things
for Shelby County was that a lot of
the schools grew, but a lot of performance
is still pretty low, especially in those
struggling schools that we talked about. – When you say they
grew, the scores got better. – Right. – There was
progress in a lot of ’em, but still in the
low-performing group statewide. – Mmhm.
– Okay. And the iZone schools,
talk about those specific, and define what the
iZone schools are. – So the iZone
schools were created in 2012 to be able to improve the
lowest-performing schools in this state, and that’s
something that’s led by Shelby County Schools. And there’s money, resources
pumped into those schools to be able to retain teachers,
to have different resources like clothes closets,
or food closets, to combat poverty’s
effect in the classroom. And there was a lot
of growth this year, especially with the
elementary schools. But the high school and
middle schools are struggling from what the district has
said and what the scores say. And so there’s now
a more renewed focus to focus on those upper grades, because literacy,
especially, in early grades has been improving. – And yeah, one of
the elementary schools, was it A. B. Hill, had kind
of a remarkable improvement year over year, right.
– Yeah, absolutely. They went from, I think it was
about seven or eight percent to 15% of their students reading on grade level.
– Right, right. – But that also means
that 85% were not. – Right, right.
And then last, ASD, which is the Achievement
School District, which was formed
around the same time the iZone was formed, so
that would be about 2009. Chris Barbic, who was the
original superintendent, was on the show a number
of times back then. But the ASD was always
under some fire, but has been under
particular fire in recent couple
of years, right? Some accusations of scandal in terms of how they
were spending money back at the office, and so on, but where do things
stand with the ASD? – Well, one important
thing to note, that Vanderbilt recently
came out with a study that said that the ASD schools in the Achievement
School District, they also started in 2012,
same year as the iZone schools. But they are no better
off than schools that didn’t receive
any intervention, so they weren’t in the iZone, they weren’t in any
special program, but they’re performing
about the same as the Achievement
School District. – And they have
not added any ASD schools, was it this year or last year? I can’t quite remember.
– Right. Because of the TNReady problems of the online delivery of the
test, they decided to pause until things got a
little bit less rocky. – Bill, your
take on the score, the performance results,
and what kind of impact that has locally. – It has a
tremendous impact for grades three through eight,
because the results just for those
grades seem to show that the literacy efforts,
very specific literacy efforts that Shelby County Schools
has been planning for and has rolled out
with a lot of fanfare, that that seems to be working. The problem here is that
the literacy efforts as reflected for
high school students in the end of course exams,
what was very lagging. Dorsey Hopson, Superintendent
of Shelby County Schools, estimated that if you were
talking just talking about grades three through
eight in that regard, that that would probably
be a level five, while the overall school
system was level two, and what brought it down was
the problems with literacy among high school students. – Yeah. Karanja,
you’re nodding your head. Your thoughts on
these test results. – Well, I mean,
agreement with what I hear. When I’ve talked to
Mr. Hopson last week, he talked about the
importance of Pre-K and how you can start to
see the Pre-K results, particularly with some
of the third graders and how they’re making
their improvements relative to reading at
a third grade level. But relative to this
idea of, on grade level, this idea of, what
are you gonna do about middle schools
and high schools? I mean, what I hear
them talkin’ about are things like adjusting
their curriculum, bringing in a reading
specialist to try to help, and also some changes
on the board level to narrow the gap between
resources and expertise at the board level to help
teachers in the classroom. – Right. There’s been an acknowledgement
by Superintendent Hopson that the rollout at
the high school level has not been what they
thought it should be in terms of materials, in
terms of teacher preparation for moving into this area,
and so are the lessons, are the methods that you use
in grades three through eight the same as you use for
middle or into high school? Probably not. So there is some
work to be done. – Yeah. And Strickland is pushing,
I think so many groups have pushed for this
increased Pre-K funding because of those numbers
that say that by, you know, something like by
third grade, I mean, that’s defining how
good a reader you’ll be, and the longer you go and get into middle
school and high school, it’s just that much more work
to bring people up to speed. You can do a whole lot
more with a younger person. Let’s also talk about,
Haslam came out, we were recording on
Tuesday, we should say, just early because of
some scheduling issues, but Haslam came out
with a task force to look at the
TennesseeReady testing. What was that about? – He will have a task force that’s going to be
appointed, he’s going to do some town hall meetings
across the state. If you’re seeing this on Friday, the governor will have been
in town here on Wednesday for several stops, including at an Achievement
School District school to look in there and possibly
make some comments on this. I think, as he’s leaving office, Governor Haslam is really
making a bid here to say, don’t throw out the
testing overall. There were some problems
with the administration of the TNReady testing, but he’s really making an
effort here as he leaves office to say, there has to be
accountability at a higher level, and the problems with
the test don’t justify doing away with the
testing entirely. – Yeah, and,
segueing a little bit, so obviously Haslam
is on his way out, he’s term-limited, we
have two candidates, Democrat, Republican,
moving towards an election in November,
and you, I believe, Laura, wrote recently a story looking
at Karl Dean, the Democrat, his positions and
what he’s talked about and prioritized with
education, vs. Bill Lee. I’ll put ya on the spot. What are they
saying about testing in TennesseeReady specifically, and what were your
general impressions as you were comparing
their perspectives on education policy? – Yeah, so our Nashville
correspondent, Marta Aldrich, had sent out a survey
to both of them to get an understanding on
what their thoughts are, were, on testing, and
both are not happy with the online
administration of it and want to take a
deeper look at it. I mean, as far as what that
could entail, we will see. But there has been a growing
call among state lawmakers, even superintendents,
Dorsey Hopson and Shawn Joseph out
in Nashville, to say we need to pause
until we can get the online administration
part right. – And last and then we’ll
switch from education but, and again, this is
a bit of a time warp because the decision’s
gonna be made on Tuesday, again, this is airing on
Friday and the weekend, but the Compass School System that’s gonna take over
the Jubilee Schools, for people that
aren’t follwing that, talk about what’s going
on with Jubilee Schools and the potential takeover. – So Jubilee Catholic Schools were one of the very few
private school networks that were willing
to take on vouchers, which is state-funded money
towards tuition for students to go into private schools. And when that continued to
fail in the state legislature, they turned to a
different method, and that is to be able
to have these schools be charter schools
instead, which means they would have to strip
out the religious component and have different
leadership structure, though a lot of the leaders
are planning on joining in that charter group. And so Shelby County Schools
is set to vote tonight on whether they will
convert those six schools. – Right. And again, by the
time this airs, Chalkbeat, and probably all of our
papers, one way or another, will have reported on
the result of that vote. I’ll switch over to
maybe you, Karanja. The police surveillance trial
that’s going on right now started, I think last week, has been going on
a federal trial, putting between
the Tennessee ACLU and the police department. Talk about the
background on that and your observations
so far of that trial. – Well, the trial is ongoing, and I think as we’re talking
today, it’s a possibility that the police
director, Mr. Rallings, may actually testify today. But we’ve got a situation where the judge has already
ruled, Judge McCalla, that there was a violation
of the 1978 Consent Decree relative to not
being able to use certain police-type measures relative to
non-criminal type folk, and there’s been a
violation of that. And so the trial is goin’ on
to look at some other issues. And one of the things
we’ll figure out is to what degree there
were additional violations, and the result of that
will put us in a position of knowing what type of
sanctions there’re gonna be. But when you look at it overall,
there isn’t any question that there were some
tactics that make some of us just sort of cringe. You know, you’ve got people
with Homeland Security Division going online and posing as
non-African-American people, or white boys, or really
weird kind of stuff, and- – But they were fake profiles?
– Fake profiles that– – Were created
by the police, is what’s being discussed.
– Yeah, and so there isn’t any issue
that the police department and law enforcement has
the right and the need to maintain social order, but how wide do you
spread that net, I mean, is what we’re lookin’
to find out here. – Toby, your thoughts
on the trial so far. – The social
media part of it has been really fascinating. That’s been the biggest
part of the trial. Yesterday afternoon there
was an account set up, I guess Sergeant Tim
Reynolds, I think, with the police department’s
Homeland Security Unit, and under the name of
Bob Smith, is that right? And posing as a person of color to infiltrate different groups. He said he wasn’t gatherin’ political intelligence,
necessarily, but a little creepy
when, you know, this person’s interacting
with people in a group, and you take that this person
is actually a real person, and gaining intelligence
on the size, and where your
event’s takin’ place, and all those kind of things. And protesters and
activists have said that it kind of amounts
to intimidation. They feel, like Tami
Sawyer said, I think, in a Commercial Appeal story, that she’s County Commission
Elect Tami Sawyer, that she would get online
and talk about somethin’, within 30 minutes the
police would be there. And it just, it felt
weird, you know? And it felt odd. And Director Rallings has argued
that, in this day and age, that this is a tactic
that we need to be usin’, that if we’re not usin’ that, that we’re really not
doin’ as much as we can to hold public safety. And I agree to that in
a little bit, but yeah, does it violate
that Consent Decree? I guess that’s up for
the judge to decide. – Maybe go back,
Bill, on the Consent Decree, which goes back to, what, 1978? – 1978. This was entered into
as a Consent Decree. What happened was, Vietnam
Era protesters discovered that there was a Domestic
Intelligence Unit of the police department
which had been doing much the same thing pre
social media, keeping tabs on not just Vietnam
Era protesters, but into the Civil
Rights Movement during the Sanitation Worker
Strike, perhaps before that. We’ll never really know, because by the time the
legal proceedings got around to actually seeing the files, the police department announced that it had burned the
files because they were old, and they were out of space, and it was time to
get rid of them. – This, again,
was back in the ’70s. – Yes.
This was in the late ’70s. The city was declared in
contempt of that court decree less than a year later because
the police were photographing Iranian students and Acorn,
an activist group at the time, protesters, at the Democratic
National Midterm Convention, which was held here
in Memphis in 1978. You know, the testimony in
this trial clearly shows that this was more, in
the present here and now, than police simply saying,
oh, there’s a protest, there’s no permit for it,
or there is a permit for it, and showing up at the
protest to maintain safety. The police were
following people, were listening in on people
when there was no protest in anticipation of
the next protest. They were showing up
at private gatherings. This was clearly over the line, and that’s not just my opinion, that’s what the judge
has ruled in this case. – Yeah. And it is interesting
that it is surveillance. You talked about the
role of police, Karanja, and if, I’m gonna make a
ridiculous scenario up, if the police are
listening in on something and a horrific murder or a horrific mass shooting
or something is going on, I think there’s this debate
about, well, it prevented some sort of terrible shooting
or murder or something. This is, as Bill pointed out,
this was surveillance of potential protests,
legal protests. Maybe there wasn’t a permit, but protests is part of
the free speech and so on. So it is, what were
the police looking for, when it was really just plans
and discussion of protests? – Well, it’s my understanding that the police department
makes their argument that, as a result of their activity, they actually kept certain
protest or gathering from turning into what they
were to something more violent, and they’re also
making the argument that, when you look
at other cities and some things that
were happening there, I think they mentioned Dallas
and the shooting there, that they needed to take
these type of procedures to be in a precautionary measure to keep those types of
things from happening. – And all this was a time, came out Black Lives protest,
the bridge was shut down, there were a number of protests with criticisms of Strickland
and how he had handled that, and so it’s good to reel back. And then there was the horrific
sniper shooting in Dallas, and some other
shootings, to be fair. – The trigger for
this was the Bridge Protest. That’s when this
really ramped up on the part of the
Memphis Police Department. And the police
department contends that, were it not for
police intervention during the Bridge Protest, that it very well could
have turned violent. I was at the Bridge Protest. Yes, there were
gang members there. This was not an instance
of gang members showing up to prey on the crowd
that was there. They were part of the march, along with fraternity
and sorority members, along with young professionals. It was a very mixed crowd. – Along with my, at
the time, high school son, who was up there, yeah. – Right, right. And, yes, Director Ralling’s
going onto the bridge and meeting with the protesters, what was a part of the
chronology of that, but to say that were
it not for that, that that protest would
have turned violent, I don’t think is an accurate
statement, having been there. – Yeah. Other thoughts here
before we move on. We’ll switch now, with
about 10 minutes left, to, the city is looking
at reforming, is studying reforming PILOTs. The Tax Incentive
Program, which right now is administered by EDGE,
we had Reid Dulberger, the administrator, the
CEO of EDGE, I should say, on just a couple weeks ago. Bill, what is the
city looking at, what are they
exploring, and why? – There will be a report, it’s supposed to come
out in 90 days on this, it will consider various options along the lines of
what’s been discussed for quite some time, and that is a change in the city’s
economic development strategy. The new element is
that this could include the city withdrawing
from EDGE and going back to a Memphis-only industrial
development board. The question immediately came up during a council discussion. Well, okay, if you have a Memphis-only industrial
development board that has the power to
abate property taxes, does it have the power to abate county property taxes as well? And the answer to
that was, well, there are suburban towns
and cities who have IDBs that are limited to their
towns and cities only, and they have a memorandum
of understanding with Shelby County government to do those very
abatements as well. – Yeah, Toby. – We’ve talked
on this show before about PILOT fatigue, and
the more people I talk to, the more I hear about
people havin’ this, they’re just kind of tired of seeing this money
go out the door. And it seems like the
changes that they wanna make would be to streamline
that process, make it easier for more
money to go out the door, that that’s what’s
holdin’ us back, we’re not able to
offer these incentives fast enough and big enough, and for a lot of folks
that’s a problem. We feel like that’s goin’
the opposite direction of what we should be doin’, which is to have another
deeper look at this strategy of givin’ tax breaks to
wealthy developers here in town and keepin’ some
of that tax money, or trying to keep some
of the tax money here for fire and police and
those kind of things. – And the supporters
of PILOTs, and again, we had the show recently,
would say, well, no money goes out the door.
– Right. – It’s not a cash incentive, it’s not tax money
that’s being given away, it’s a change in the tax rate
in order to lower the cost of that construction.
– Right. – Just to be fair,
that’s what they say. – Yes sir. – Your take on, do
you see PILOT fatigue? I mean, it’s a
huge issue because, as city leaders and
county leaders will say, it’s one of their only
real, they will claim, it is one of their only real
incentives to play that game, to entice developers
into Memphis. Other cities, even
across the border, they have other ways
of cash incentives, of actual cash payments,
effectively, to developers. The city of Memphis
County and Shelby County only have this tool,
they will claim. – Well, I just think that Bill touched on
it earlier, and that is that there’s just a
larger thing goin’ on here in terms of, how do we go
about economic development in city of Memphis
and Shelby County? And so there’s talk
about adjustments that we’d need to make
relative to the EDGE board. I think about the same time
as the city council came up with this new commission,
the committee, the county commission also
was making some movement relative to this joint
city council resolution to look at how we relate
to the EDGE board, the makeup of the EDGE board, who does the EDGE
board report to, and all those types of things. So I’m actually sort
of hopeful, in a way, because while all
movement isn’t progress, I do like the sort of
consistent talk and conversation that I’ve seen in a lot
of different quarters relative to what we’re gonna
do about economic development. – Yeah, and Karanja
alluded to this change the county commission
is moving towards. Certainly one of the transition
co-chairs for Lee Harris, who was recently elected to
the county commission seat, was a little concerned that
the commission was moving to strip the incoming mayor
of some authority over EDGE. Where does that stand, Bill? – The resolution that the county
commission has not approved, but is discussing
and might vote at at their last meeting of the
term coming up next week, would give the county commission
and the city council power over who is appointed
to the EDGE board. Currently, the mayors nominate
those people to the board, and the county commission
and city council approve it. It would also have the
EDGE CEO and president report to the board as opposed to reporting
to the two mayors, the city and county mayor,
and the thought there is that that’s the
better alignment, because the CEO and president
works with the board. And so those are
some adjustments really to the structure of EDGE as opposed to its basic purpose. – And then there’s
a whole lot of discussion, we’ll move on, but about
who is the marketing person? Who is the person
who sells Memphis? Is that the Memphis
Chamber of Commerce, of which we are members and
some of you all may be members, but I should say,
we are members, is the Chamber of Commerce and the current
president of that board, Richard Smith from FedEx
is pushing really hard that they need more marketing, that there needs to be
someone who is marketing, that EDGE is much more
of an administrator of these incentives, and
it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out
in this whole mix of what maybe the refined or
changed role, if EDGE stays, will the role and relationship between city,
county, and chamber be refined, change,
or stay the same? – And folks who watch
the show on a regular basis know that, several weeks ago, we had Reid Dulberger at this
very table repeating again that when EDGE was
formed in 2011, the original agreement was that the chamber would
be the salesperson. They would be the contact, they would be the person out
there courting prospects, and EDGE would be the folks
who do the detail work and deliver on the promises. – With just a
couple minutes left, we mentioned Lee
Harris in transition. Thoughts from anyone on the
things you’ve seen so far? He named Paul Morris, who was former head of
Center City Commission, Downtown Memphis Commission, as one of his co-chairs,
Lionel Hollins, former coach of the Grizzlies. Any other thoughts
on Lee Harris? – I was just struck
by some of the comments about that this is not
necessarily going to be cleaning house at
the administration. I think that the
Harris administration will take some new directions that are departures from
the Luttrell administration, but some of the division
directors will probably stay, so this won’t be a house
cleaning in terms of personnel, but there will likely be
some changes in policies. – What would some of
the priorities education-wise, coming back to you, Laura, that Lee Harris talked
about in the election, your sense of the
prospect of those being actually implemented. – Well one of his big things that he really wants to
see is more Pre-K funding, and there has been a lot
of movement on that side from the city, from the
county, to come up with a plan, but that still is in flux. It’s not finalized,
it’s not to the point where it can fill the gap of the federal grant
that is expiring and to have universal Pre-K
for families that need it. – Any other
thoughts on Lee Harris as we see so far? But last thing. The city council has been
trying to work through a compromise on
historic districts and how new historic
districts would be done, whether, I think, Cooper
Young would be named one, Speedway Terrace, I’m sure
I’m leaving a couple out. they’ve moved through
a bunch of compromises, it wasn’t clear whether they
were gonna be able to vote and approve this compromise,
but it was moving towards that, and then the State
Historic Commission of who we all know from
when we were covering– [group chuckles]
and talking about the statues, the Confederate statues
and their removal. How, what happened, Bill? How did the State Historic
Commission get involved in the city of
Memphis designating neighborhood’s
historic districts? – This was a real
interesting twist. The Friday before what was to be the third and final reading, which had been
delayed since June, the city got a letter from the Tennessee
Historic Commission saying that, well,
if you do this, then it might endanger some historic
preservation funding. And– -I think Allan
Wade, the city attourney, called it $300,000
over 12 years? Is that correct? – Yeah, his exact quote
was, “Are you kidding me?” – That’s a lot of money. – And so as a
result, Kemp Conrad, the sponsor and author of
the compromise, he tabled it. Takes seven votes to
take it off the table, the state insisted, well,
go ahead and pass this, and it’s something that
we can work through, and he was having none of it. He said that the tone of
the letter was threatening, and he tabled it. – And Kemp Conrad,
city councilman, drew some comparisons to how
the statues were handled. Toby, as a proud
resident of Cooper Young, do you have any thoughts on
the State Historic Commission coming in and
dictating what happens? – It was interesting,
it was interesting to hear Berlin Boyd and Kemp Conrad
give their thoughts on, is this Nashville
comin’ back on us again, but I think Speedway
Terrace and Cooper Young got their Historic Districts
passed, is that right, Bill? – Yes.
– Okay. And we’re done, I didn’t
give Toby enough time. Thank you all for being here,
and thank you all for joining us.
Join us again next week. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]

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