Memphis voters approve charter surrender - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis voters approve charter surrender

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Voters in Memphis have approved a referendum that transfers control of Memphis City Schools to Shelby County.

47,812 voted yes for the surrender, while 23,612 voted no. Officials at the Shelby County Election Commission said 17 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, a low turnout considering the heated discussion surrounding the schools merger issue.

As it became clear the referendum would pass, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton spoke positively about what the surrender would mean for the city and county.

"It's not a time to celebrate because the rough part of the journey just begins," Wharton said. "There might be some choppy seas and some rough air, but in the end, once this is all done, I think we'll be a stronger city and county as a result of this."

The cash-strapped Memphis City Schools board voted last December to surrender its charter and turn over control to the more successful Shelby County system, which includes public schools outside the city limits.

Opponents argue that the move was made without planning, and could stretch resources to the point that jobs could be cut.

The issue has proven contentious.

A diverse group of Memphis-area ministers came out in support of consolidation, while local union chapters and a separate contingent of Memphis-area religious leaders opposed the merger.

Shelby County School Board Chairman David Pickler and other county leaders also opposed consolidation, upset that county voters outside the city limits were left out of the decision.

State lawmakers stepped into the fray as well. Republican lawmakers quickly passed and the governor signed a law that delays the merger for three years.

Now that the surrender has been approved, a transition team will be assembled to oversee the consolidation process and the county school board will be expanded from the current seven members to 25.

Results of Tuesday's vote should be certified in weeks. Shelby County Election Commission chairman Bill Giannini explained how the referendum results would be certified.

"The vote will go through an audit," he said. "We have two separate audit firms that will audit the vote, and we will work through the certification process as we always do. The vote will be certified within three weeks. Then it's official at that point."

Meanwhile, leaders who supported the charter surrender from the start watched voters approve their vision Tuesday.

Citizens for Better Education organizers were among those somewhat surprised by the margin of victory. They called it a testament to the power of a grassroots campaign.

"When I was driving over to headquarters today, I saw a lady driving in her car and she had a handmade "vote yes" sign in her front and back window," said the group's Cardell Orrin. "That to me said this is a movement, this is something the community wants."

While happy with the margin of victory, those at a party organized by Citizens for Better Education were disappointed in overall voter turnout. They also said the vote sent a clear message to lawmakers in Nashville that Memphians want to set their own destiny.

MCS commissioners Tomeka Hart and Martavius, who spearheaded the initial effort to get this on the ballot, acknowledged the transition may take years.

Copyright 2011 WMC-TV. All rights reserved. The AP contributed to this story.

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