Behind the Headlines – February 16, 2018

Behind the Headlines – February 16, 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. – Painting over the murals,
charter schools in flux, 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, including Toby Sells, news
editor from the Memphis Flyer, Ryan Poe, reporter with
The Commercial Appeal, Laura Faith Kebede, an education
reporter with Chalkbeat, thanks for being here, along with Bill
Dries, senior reporter with the Memphis Daily News. We’ll start with the
murals, and I don’t know, maybe I’m gonna go
to you I think, Ryan, just to maybe give us the
rundown of what happened, maybe people saw it out of
the corner of their eye. It was a strange day, was it
Monday that this happened? Or, it was recently
that these murals that had been painted
by Paint Memphis were painted over by the city. – Yeah, there was more than
100 artists had painted these murals, beautiful
murals many of them, on this area of public
property and private property at Lamar and Willett in
South Memphis in Midtown. So what happened
was, the city crews, they didn’t like
six of the murals. The City Council members
singled out six of the murals for being painted over. They sent out the
Public Works crews and they painted
over seven murals, none of which were
the six that were originally planned to
be painted (laughs). So it was a flub from the city. The Public Works
director admitted that it was a
miscommunication, his fault, and now they’ve put a halt on
all painting over of murals until they can have a City
Council meeting to kind of flesh out or sort
out what happened. – Toby, I mean, thoughts on it? It was sort of a strange
circus of confusion and a lot of disappointment
and a lot of frustration and a lot of anger
on social media. People who didn’t like
some of the murals in the neighborhoods,
I think it was a couple City Council members who
had gotten a lot of pushback from their constituents, felt
like they didn’t have input on the murals that were painted. There was a grim reaper
sort of themed one that we had some of the
people from Paint Memphis on, Karen Golightly, and another
woman, Lauren Kennedy, on talking about
that two months ago, but the way it was quote
“taken care of” was strange. – Bizarre. As I watched it unfold I still
didn’t have a full grasp on how this was getting done. City Council members are
now telling Public Works how to go and what to
paint over and things. There were no votes taken
on what murals to take down and how to take them
down and all that. Was the mayor involved in this? I mean, it’s his administration. And yeah, and Council
members just saying, “Go do this thing,”
and it happens. I thought what is
happening here? The processes just seemed
to be breaking down or maybe there’s something
I don’t understand about how all this is
working out, but I do think, at the end of the day,
and hopefully the next Council meeting
they’ll kind of figure some of this stuff out. It does show that
we’ve got to have some kind of process
for this thing. We got to have a professional
standard issue way to go about either putting
murals up or taking them down and hopefully we’ll get there. – (Eric)
Bill, your thoughts? – Well, the Council members,
when they had what was a pretty lively discussion
with Karen Golightly about specifically the
Paint Memphis murals that confrontation ended with
the Council members saying, “Alright, here’s
what we’re gonna do. “We’re gonna, all of
us are gonna come up “with the specific
murals that offend us, “and we’re gonna write a
letter to Public Works, “a formal request, that
Public Works paint over these specific murals.” So that letter’s in
the works in January. And it’s part of a process,
there’s also a process that’s used for the
removal of graffiti. These are not considered
to be graffiti. So, the letter’s in
circulation in January. The next month, as
a matter of fact, the first Council
meeting in February, the Council members
are talking about the Urban Arts Commission and
how they’re about to appoint a new board to that,
which is part of a separate process for that. And then, some of the
Council members say, “Well, what happened
to our request “about painting
over those murals? “They haven’t been painted over, and we want them painted over.” They were quite
insistent about it. Meeting broke up,
continued into the hallway, with the Council members
telling Robert Knecht, “When are you gonna
paint those over? We want them painted over now.” That weekend, you start
seeing them painted over. One panel had actually been
painted over earlier, but. – Were the ones, back to
the confusion about it, were the ones that the City
Council members requested, those were not the ones
that were painted over? – (Bill)
No. – No, they were not, but. – It was just a
general paint over on one side of Willett,
too, we should add. – (Ryan) Yeah, they
were trying to paint them all. – I got it, okay. And now, there’s graffiti,
I mean I think I saw on social media somewhere
people taking pictures that now the tan walls over the, have graffiti all over them, which is part of the whole
argument of the people who are in favor of
murals is that they’re art and they make the
neighborhood look better and people don’t put graffiti
on murals, by and large. – You did have
neighborhood leaders, who are among the initial
presentation to the Council, who said, “We don’t
want this there.” It was more than
the Council members. And there are other
people in the community who think this is pretty neat. – Yeah, and I think when we had, Paint Memphis is an independent, they’re not city-funded. They’re an independent group
that had a contractor agreement with the city to do this. Urban Art Commission is in
part funded by the city, does sculptures, does murals,
does all kinds of things. I mean, there is, it
does seem like some need for some clarity on how these
groups all work together and where the murals
go and public input and that whole idea. We were talking before the
show, Toby, of public input and a process behind this. In some ways, it gets
back to the statues. And this week there was, and
even the people who adamantly wanted the statues to come down, there were people who were
concerned about the process, that it was not
transparent enough. And we had Bruce McMullen,
the city legal officer, on the show and so on. But, there were some parallels
in a way about process or lack of process,
however the comptroller, or the state comptroller
came forward with a report looking at the process
about the statues this week, and what did they find? – They found that it
was all above board, that they followed the
right rules of open meetings and paying less
than market value, or accepting less than
market value for the parks, but the part that I think a lot
of folks are concerned about is the actual vote itself. The ordinance had
been going through the regular legislative process, and you guys help
me out and tell me if this is all true, accurate. it came down to the final vote, and there was a substitute
ordinance put up by Edmund Ford that was given to all
the Council members. They didn’t read it. They didn’t offer copies
of it to the press or the public at all. I don’t think it was
in the agenda packet. And they just handed
it out, no discussion. They approved it, and they
moved on with the meeting. And I think even reporters
had to go and try to beg to get copies of this ordinance
after the meeting went down. Is that kind of, that’s
how it went down, right? – It is, and, plus,
Edmund Ford was about to read the ordinance, actually,
and then they stopped him. And they went ahead
with the vote, so, yeah. – All of that have
people thinking, “How can this be legal? “The public needs to know what they’re voting on
when they’re voting on it.” And folks have
said this was done in secrecy, done in the dark. There’s something
else going on there. But, the state comptroller’s
office of open records council said several Nashville
lawmakers had wanted this all looked into to see if
this was all above board. So they launched a review. I think it took a few weeks
to look into this stuff. The report that came out
yesterday said that auditors had a look at all
the open meetings, all the open records acts,
and everything and said that the whole thing was above
board and it was done legally. – They had one
question on the way the non-profit was set up,
though, I think right? Which the city
pushed back on, but– – Yeah, the state report said
that there should have been a memorandum of understanding that went to the
financial ability of the non-profit on this,
and that wasn’t in place. The city’s response was,
“We’ve done others this way “that didn’t include the
memorandum of understanding. “We have confidence of the financial ability
of the non-profit.” And the state comptroller said “We still want to see a
memorandum of understanding.” So there will be one. – Yeah, and we’ll stay
with that for a minute, and then we’ll switch
over to education and get Laura involved. I mean, I know I was up in
Nashville at the legislature a couple weeks ago, and
there was a lot of discussion about whether there’d
be sort of retribution on the part of Nashville. The comptroller, I mean,
that’s a first indication that maybe there won’t be. I mean, that’s a
Republican comptroller that came forward and said this
was, with one real footnote, this was a legal process. There were some bills
proposed, a variety of them, that would shut down the
ability of cities to do this, that would punish cities
that tried to do this. I don’t know if anyone knows if those are getting
any momentum? Let’s go Ryan, or yeah, Ryan,
and then go back to Bill. – Yeah, the feeling
I’ve gotten from talking to state lawmakers,
most people think that those are not going
to get much momentum, especially the more radical
ones that would be more damaging to cities in the future. One of them, the main one,
would be, that would affect us, would be if a state law
is approved that would let the state seize our statues,
take ownership of the statues, and that would kind
of let the state control what happens to them. So that’s one of the
bills amongst several that are on the table. – (Eric)
Yeah, any other thought on that? – The retroactive bill,
the sponsor of that bill, acknowledges that he probably
does not have the votes on it, and the sponsors of some of
the others have actually said that they’re not sure
if what the city did is illegal or legal, it might
be legal, they acknowledge. – We’ll come back
to some other things going on in the legislature,
but I wanted to switch over to education, and there
is a ton going on. Laura, we’ve had you on the
show once, twice before, tell people, and I probably
should have done this in the past, tell people
first what Chalkbeat is, and then where do you want to
start with all the many things going on in education? – Sure, so Chalkbeat is a
non-profit news organization. We cover Shelby County,
specifically Shelby County schools in the
Achievement School District. But we also cover state policy. And we’ve been around for about four-ish years now in Memphis. And we have a team of two
people here in Memphis and someone else in Nashville. – Yeah, and we run your stories
in the Memphis Daily News. I think they’ve appeared in
other publications and so on. But where do you want to start? I mean, the Jubilee schools? The charter schools
that are on watch? Where do we start? – Well, I think one thing
that is really interesting about the charter schools that
are in danger of being closed is that this is the first time for this new process
to be in place. A couple of years ago,
Shelby County schools flagged several charter schools
and closed three of them for low performance, but
there wasn’t a tried and true process in place
to really vet that. A lot of the charter schools
complained that they had no warning whatsoever,
and so since then, there’s been a charter compact
committee of charter leaders and district leaders to be able
to say what can we all agree to to be more accountable
because charter schools do have more flexibility and power than
district-run schools. And so with that power comes a little bit more
accountability. So this is the first time that this process
is going in place. And so there have been seven
schools that have been flagged under this new process. – And do they have a
year, or two years, or some period of time in which they have to
turn things around? – Yeah, so what they’ll do is
in the next couple of days, within the month
of being notified, they need to have
an improvement plan. And so when the next year
of test scores come back, if things also haven’t improved,
they’ll have another chance for an improvement plan. And if still that
doesn’t do anything, then they’ll be
recommended for revocation. – There are, Bill, what
50, or either of you, 50 charter schools in the city? It is interesting. I mean, you get
education advocates, education reform
advocates who say, “Charter schools are the
answer to everything. Charter schools are
gonna change the nation.” This kind of points out,
and other people will say, “Look, they’re not perfect.” They’re an attempt, they
can be an experiment, there are some charter schools that have incredible
performance, some that don’t. I mean, your take, you
cover education as well. – Well, the question is how
do you gauge the response? When the ASD was in
its original form, the complaint from the school
system is that the state can come in pretty much at
any time and just say, “We’re taking this failing
school, this failing school, and that failing school.” And the complaint from
the school system was, “Why doesn’t it work that
way for the charter schools?” And, in effect, the school
board did actually say, “No, this charter school’s
closed, this one is closed,” at one point in the
earlier process. Dorsey Hopson, superintendent
of Shelby County schools, has called really the set of
rules around charter schools prior to this kind of
the Wild, Wild West. Even things like
how many students are you gonna have in
your charter school? That’s an estimate that
in some cases has been off pretty widely from the
mark originally set once the school
was up and running. – And let me give some, for people who don’t
follow this closely, and you guys correct me where
I get some things wrong, so the charter schools,
which have been in Memphis for a decade or more
now, various charters, they go, they apply to
the Shelby County schools, they have to meet
certain conditions, a certain level of
financial stability and they’ve got a plan
for this charter school. They start, the money
follows the child. So the money that comes from
the state for each child comes out of the Shelby
County Public School System and goes with that child
to the charter school, is that correct?
Those charter schools then sometimes maybe
raise other money from philanthropy or other
sources, am I right so far? ASD is the Achievement
School District, which Governor Haslam put in
place as a way to take over failing schools
across the state, most of them were in Memphis. And Chris Barbic was the
original superintendent of that, who was on the show a number
of times when he started up. And some of those
take-overs have worked, and some they haven’t
improved results. Is that fair to say
of the ASD schools? – There have been very little,
a small amount of schools that have actually made it outside of the bottom 5%
of schools in the state. So, there’s been a lot of
changes of curbing the power of the Achievement School
District in the past year or so to be still one of the most
severe option that the state refers to to turn
around failing schools, but is no longer the most
powerful tool that they use. – Maybe when Governor Haslam
was on, Bill, on the show, but at various points he’s
acknowledged that there’s been some, that the ASD hasn’t
worked in some cases, but has pointed out
that that threat, that it took that threat. In part, the Shelby County
schools, Innovation Zone schools, which have
performed really well, have been in response
to the ASD, right? That pressure, that competitive
pressure, I think Haslam would point out and say,
and others would say, “Well, maybe the ASD
didn’t work as designed, but it pressured Shelby County
into doing a better job.” – Yeah, the iZone schools were part of the original
ASD legislation. It was an option for the
school systems to use, but that’s essentially
been the argument because the iZones,
by most standards, have performed better
than the ASD schools in a head-to-head comparison. And the ASD’s argument has been, “Yeah, but would the school
system be addressing this “with the urgency that it is
if it were not for the idea “that the ASD could come in and take any schools
on pretty short order.” – Well, and the counterargument,
too, that I’ve heard is that there wasn’t funds
to flow, enough funds, because the iZone
were expensive model, and they’re saying, “Well,
now that we have the funds through this legislation,
we can now use that urgency.” So there’s that
competing argument. – What’s going on with
the Jubilee schools? Do you want to take
that or do you want? Who wants that (laughs)? The Jubilee schools, which are
the set of Catholic schools, what are there, nine of them? – We had a set of nine Jubilee
schools who will actually be in their 20th year
when they close at the end of the
19-20 school year. – (Eric)
2020 school year. – Yeah. – Or 2019 or 2020? – No, 2019-2020. And so these schools have
been in business for 20 years. These are schools that
are in the inner city. In some cases, they’re
resurrected schools that had been parish
schools a long time ago. And the Catholic– – They’re not charter schools,
they’re Catholic schools? – No, they are, yeah, they’re
not operated by charters. So, the Catholic school system
was having the same problems that some of the charters
in the inner city have had and that is with low enrollment. So they announced that
they will be closing. There’s a new charter group, whose board is led
by John Smarrelli, the president of Christian
Brothers University, who’s also been involved in the Crosstown High
School charter school– – The Maxine Smith
STEAM Academy charter, across the street from CBU. – Right, and so the plan
is for that charter group to effectively take over the
Catholic Jubilee schools. These will become secular
schools in the process. So, this is a pretty big group
to become charter schools. – Yeah, other thoughts
going on in education. We talked a little before the
show that it’s kind of quiet at the legislature right now
in terms of education bills that are coming forward. But other thoughts that are
on your radar right now? – Well, just to get back
to the Jubilee schools, I think it’s really interesting
that this is not the only time in the nation
where this has happened, where Catholic
schools are saying, “Well, we are not having
enough enrollment. “We’re not getting
enough funds that we need “to serve the students
from low-income families that we’re targeting.” And so there have
been in other places, in D.C., Indianapolis, I want
to say Milwaukee as well, where Catholic schools
have turned to, well, what about
this charter option? If we are able to get public
funds and still operate our buildings, and provide
education that, not the religious aspect, but still provide
education in a way. So I think that’s interesting
as we’re looking at what is happening here in Memphis,
we’re not alone in that. – Yeah, it’s interesting,
too, as there are more options in inner city schools
and parents have choices in terms of optional schools, in terms of different
types of charter schools, I wonder how much
that was a factor that the Jubilee schools used
to be the only other option in the inner city, now
there are a whole lot more. We’re talking about
education, grade-fixing, and what’s the update there? – Well, the latest is that
superintendent Dorsey Hopson has responded to the state’s
inquiry of different questions that they had of who has access to grades after they
have already been given? And one thing that he’s done
in response is shorten the list of people who have
access to changing grades after they’ve
already been given. But, in that list, which is
the school records secretary, and one other person that
the principal designates, whether that’s an assistant
principal or someone else, he’s shortened that list
to those two people. But, that would
not have prevented what happened at
Trezevant because this started with the
records secretary. – Yeah, we can talk
more, but we’ll move on, we’ll shift a little bit
with the six, seven minutes we have left and stay
with the legislature. Toby, what’s the update on,
I think last time you were on we were talking about
medical marijuana and a bill being
proposed in the house. It’s got a little more momentum
as the session goes along. – It does, this summer
there were meetings all over the state looking
at medical cannabis here. And you’ve got, in East
Tennessee, a Republican, Jeremy Faison, House member,
who’s been really pushing this. Brought the bill back to
Nashville this session, and just recently, Beth
Harwell, Speaker of the House, has signed on, says
she’s gonna support it. And that’s a huge move
for medical cannabis here in Tennessee. That kind of same power
was the tipping point for the wine in
grocery stores bill that fought for years
in the legislature. Finally, some leadership
got behind it, and that was enough
to push it over. So, we’ll see if that’s
enough this session to get medical cannabis over, but it’s at least
got more people looking at it and
thinking about it. – Other things
going on with the, just a whole lot of
stories right now. One, maybe an update, Bill, and maybe Ryan you want
to comment on it too, on various statewide races. So, the governor’s
race is under way. I hosted a forum with the
Tennessee Press Association two weeks ago,
something like that, had most, not all, the
candidates on there. It was interesting, Republican
and Democratic candidates. It’s interesting to hear them
run in a really great economy, and so they had to find ways
to sort of separate themselves and say, “Yeah, Haslam,
the economy’s great, but these things
aren’t working.” And it was fascinating. – And one of the more
interesting things to me was that Karl Dean, the
former mayor of Nashville, who is one of the
Democratic contenders, is saying, “Ideology
really shouldn’t matter in who is governor.” And you have five major
Republican contenders who are in various ways
and different shades, who are saying, “Yes,
ideology does matter.” And so the idea that it’s
about building coalitions has become Dean’s answer
to the economic success that the state is having
with a Republican governor and super majorities in
the House and Senate. – Yeah, and Randy
Boyd opening an office here in the next
couple of weeks. I mean, this, a lot of
people saying Shelby County will sort of turn the tide. I was up in Nashville around
the time of the forum. Chattanooga was
saying, “Yeah, yeah, we’re gonna turn the tide.” And then people in
Nashville were saying, “No, no, we’re the
most important here that are gonna turn the tide.” But, you know– – Well, no candidate is
going to come to x city in Tennessee and say,
“No, I really don’t know “why I’m in this
place (laughing). Doesn’t matter at all.” – But it would be so
refreshing, wouldn’t it? It would be fabulous if
they would do that (laughs). – (Bill) I might vote
for that, in some cases. – Other thoughts on that
maybe, or the Senate race? Corker, Bob Corker, the
Senator, U.S. Senator here, who’s gonna retire, has been
very critical of Donald Trump, is now thinking
about not retiring. Do you want to take this? – Yeah, no, it’s huge, and it’s changed the
whole shape of that race. He was out, there were a lot
of other contenders in there. – Marsha Blackburn,
the House member from, and a big Trump supporter,
from the, what, Nashville area being the prime Republican
candidate for that job. And Phil Bredesen, the
former governor, Democrat, 73 years old, coming
out of retirement, dusting off the campaign
shoes as a Democrat to maybe run against
Marsha Blackburn. But, I cut you off. – No, no, it’s just that
these people were rushing to fill that void, and
then all of a sudden, Corker’s having second
thoughts and it just, again, changed the entire shape of
that whole election, yeah. – Yeah, it’s also behind the
scenes what was happening was Politico got a hold
of an internal poll that was weighted toward
Republican voters, and in that poll, Bredesen was
finished ahead of Blackburn in a general election match-up by three to four
percentage points, which is the margin of error. – Yeah, and a lot of people
were talking, I mean, if Bredesen got in, and
he’s a very wealthy guy, so he can self-fund a
tremendous, to a large degree, but also, all the
national money, the Senate Leadership
Conference, the Democratic, I can’t remember the name of it, but they would almost
match his money. So if they saw a viable
Democratic candidate who would put up
their own money, then they would start
pouring huge amounts of money into the race, even
just as a sort of, in the shell game of then
forcing Republicans nationally to put money into Tennessee, a state that they had
otherwise thought was safe. – Yeah, it’s a 51 to 49 margin
in favor of the Republicans in the Senate in terms of the
seats, and the Republicans looking at that poll are
starting to see a possibility that the seat might change. – Just with a couple minutes
left, we’ll shift it. Ryan, there was a protest
this week, a march downtown. Tell us about that. – Yeah, March for 15. More than 500 protestors,
by my estimates, got together downtown. First they had a strike at
the McDonald’s on Union. Then, later that day,
they went downtown. They marched, taking
the same route that the 1968 sanitation
workers took to City Hall. And the whole point
of it was to say that we need a $15
minimum wage, living wage. And yeah, there’s
a lot of people, a lot of people
from out of town. I’d say more than half of the
people were from out of town. – Really? And did Strickland have
a response, the mayor? Because in part they were
protesting the mayor. It’s in the mayor’s seat
to raise the minimum wage. – The mayor can’t
really do a whole lot about minimum wage
in a general sense. He can control how much
city employees are paid, and he put out a
statement saying that he supports
higher wages generally, and that no city employee
makes under $12 an hour. – This is the first, I mean, there are more things happening
as well move towards April. I don’t what, in the observance of the 50th anniversary
of King’s death? – This was kind of a kick-off
of the activities we’ll see. The march, which also included
Reverend William Barber’s Moral Mondays group,
which is organizing a new poor people’s campaign, is actually involved
in it as well. This happened 50
years to the day that the strike actually began. – Alright, well,
we’ve run out of time, but we’ll talk a whole
lot more about that. Thank you all. And thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]

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