In Tennessee, an attempt to merge two school systems has turned into a full-blown fight, studded with accusations of racism. The struggling Memphis City Schools system, comprised of 85% black students, wants to force a merger with the more successful suburban school district in surrounding Shelby County, which is only 38% black—but opponents are pushing back. Things began to get especially heated when Republicans took control of the state Legislature and the governorship last November, and Shelby County Republicans realized they could block a future merger by getting a special status that would effectively draw a boundary around the district separating it from the city schools.
In an attempt to prevent such a move, the Memphis City Schools board voted to surrender its charter last December, thus turning over control to Shelby County, the AP reports. The City Council accepted the surrender Feb. 10, and Memphis voters will decide whether to disband the city schools system March 8. Days after the surrender was accepted, Republican lawmakers had passed a law delaying the merger for three years, which the governor enacted. The Shelby County School Board chairman, who argues that a merger will stretch resources too thin and possibly lead to job cuts and school closings, also asked a federal judge to invalidate the disbanding of the Memphis City Schools board. Says the chairman, "To say that we don't want someone because of the color of their skin to me is the most offensive thing someone can say to me.”