Memphis School Workers Remind School Board of Public Workers’ Value

by Eli Magana  |  April 20, 2012

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In the face of a looming city-county school systems merger, school employees here voiced concerns about the future of public education and their role in educating the community’s students.

Officials from a school board commission responsible for the merger presented on the consolidation of Memphis and Shelby County schools and fielded questions at an event held at Local 1733 headquarters.

AFSCME member Cassandra Hill, a custodian at Rainswood Residential Center, drew cheers from the audience when she gave personal testimony about rising from homelessness to homeownership while working for Memphis City Schools.

“I clean, but I do it well. No matter what job we have in this life, we are working. And most of us in this job are women,” Hill told the visiting school officials. “I’ve been with Memphis City Schools for 15 years. I am somebody, no matter what the title of my job is. I deserve to be heard.”

An upcoming school board election gives voters the opportunity to elect a new school board comprised of members from across Shelby County. This comes after a referendum a year ago when residents voted to surrender their school charter, effectively paving the way for a merger between the two school districts.

AFSCME Local 1733 members have spoken publically about the rights of workers in this consolidation process. Last month, the local’s executive director, Chad Johnson, along with other union officials representing Memphis school workers, addressed the unified Shelby County School Board and asked for an extension on all labor agreements in the city’s school district through June 30, 2013. Board members subsequently overwhelmingly voted to approve the request.

Also, in February, AFSCME Local 1733 outlined best practices for the school board, for successfully merging school districts.

Workers are now gearing up for the election, to ensure pro-worker candidates win office – a crucial step ahead of the merger.

“We’re moving forward,” said Emily Payne, AFSCME Local 1733 chair of the Memphis School Chapter for custodial, kitchen and warehouse employees. “Many of us have worked in the Memphis schools for more than 20 years, we are in the schools every day, we know the children and we should have a say in what happens to our school system.”

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