The 901 is your morning blend of Memphis news and commentary
Administration Building on the University of Memphis campus. (Photo: Mark Weber, The Commercial Appeal)
Good Thursday morning from Memphis, where Shelby County Schools’ superintendent is opening up a teensy bit about school reopening plans and MLGW’s board is looking for ways to punish the City Council for playing politics with its bidding process. Also, as in previous weeks, The 901 will be on hiatus tomorrow, returning Monday. But first…
Yesterday, in an email to faculty and staff, University of Memphis President David Rudd finally dropped the bombshell the school’s staff have been both expected and dreading.
Facing a $50 million loss because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the U of M will lay off an undisclosed number of employees, Rudd wrote, as reported by our Laura Testino.
Even though we don’t know how many people will be affected, and the state hasn’t published any notice of layoffs at the school as of this morning, we know the layoffs will be widespread. Facilities management and support services will take a hit. So will employees in housing, the Holiday Inn, parking and transportation, Tiger Copy and Graphics, mail services, dining services, conference and event services, and more.
The school employs more than 2,400 staff and full-time faculty, per the U of M’s website.
University of Memphis President David Rudd speaks Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019, during the UpSkill 901 Workforce Summit and the University of Memphis’ University Center. (Photo: Max Gersh / The Commercial Appeal)
But toward the end of his email, Rudd answers The Big Question: Are these staff reductions necessary? Here’s his response:
“These are incredibly difficult times. As our Budget Reduction Taskforce recommendations noted, staff reductions in these units come only after significant operational reductions have been implemented. These steps are necessary to sustain our core academic and research mission. Those affected have worked hard to support the mission of the University, to serve our students, facilitate research and to help make Memphis a better place. We are committed to assisting them during this difficult period. We will also do everything we can to expand our staffing when demand increases on the other side of this pandemic and our campus community begins the process of returning to better days.”
Let’s hope those “better days” come quickly. In the meantime, if you’d like to donate to help people affected by COVID-19 and its economic fallout, keep in mind that the Mid-South COVID-19 Regional Response Fund is still accepting donations. The fund has collected and distributed millions of dollars to help see people through this mess.
Ray: SCS will have a phased reopening
Shelby County School Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray speaks at Whitehaven High School on Wednesday morning, Jan. 8, 2020. (Photo: Max Gersh / The Commercial Appeal)
Shelby County School Superintendent Joris Ray still hasn’t given students and parents any idea about when the district will begin reopening schools. But yesterday, in an interview with our Laura Testino, he explained one facet of the district’s reopening plan.
“One of the most difficult things we had to face is being all virtual. And with that being said, we are always trying to figure out with the help of science and health professionals, how to transition students back in person…And we’ll start with pre-K, possibly through three, and our most fragile students” which he clarified as the district’s Exceptional Children, who receive special education resources.
We don’t know when students will be back at desks, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that Ray’s initial metric — 14 days of single-digit new COVID-19 cases — “may be a little over-ambitious,” in the words of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital pediatrician-in-chief Jon McCullers. The count of new COVID-19 cases is dropping: The 14-day rolling average of new cases per day was at 94 yesterday, the lowest it’s been since the end of May. But Shelby County is still probably weeks or months away from single-digit growth.
Interestingly — and importantly — McCullers said most of the outbreaks tied to local schools have been traced to sports or off-campus events:
“I think what we’ve found is that with the policies we’ve enacted, which is masks, plus the distancing in the classrooms, that we’re not seeing transmission within the schools within the normal school setting, and which is what you’d worry you’d see, a cluster within a classroom where they would come back to the parents,” McCullers said. “What we’re seeing is just individual cases, which is probably more likely family transmission and the kids identified at school.”
What that means is that the key to keeping reopened schools opened is to 1) follow health safety protocols at schools, and 2) follow those protocols outside of schools.
Case in point: The University of Arizona had an outbreak after it reopened, but went from 245 cases per day to two cases per day in just three weeks after the school cracked down on after-school parties and other outside-of-classroom activities.
So, in other words, do what the Shelby County Health Department has told us all along: Stay away from crowds as much as possible, maintain social distancing, wear a mask, wash your hands. If you show symptoms, get tested and self-quarantine. Be smart.
Speaking of sports and COVID-19: Our sports columnist, Mark Giannotto, writes about how Shelby County Schools’ ban on sports is leading some student-athletes to choose homeschooling (and yes, there are competitive teams of homeschooling students here).
MLGW board hot about council vote
The board of directors of Memphis Light, Gas and Water isn’t happy with a City Council vote interfering with a bidding process that’s part of the ongoing talks about whether MLGW should exit a decades-old power-buying agreement with the Tennessee Valley Authority. (Photo: Ariel Cobbert, The Commercial Appeal )
But yesterday, our Sam Hardiman fleshed out a follow-up story about how the members of the Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division’s board took the news that City Council members were playing favorites with a key contract to continuing the TVA discussion.
They weren’t happy.
They were so unhappy, in fact, that they almost voted to remove all of the city’s fees off the MLGW bills, which might have wreaked havoc with the city enterprise funds:
MLGW board members were irked by the council’s decision and, for a few moments Wednesday, contemplated rebellion.
McCullough and Commissioner Mike Pohlman, an engineer, proposed and then withdrew a motion that would’ve taken city of Memphis solid waste and storm water fees off the MLGW bill, which is how the city collects those funds, but then reconsidered when Mitch Graves, another commissioner, warned that they might be violating an existing contract with the city if they did so.
Read Sam’s story for more about the board’s response. Meanwhile, council member Worth Morgan had strong words for his colleagues yesterday at the MLGW board meeting — and even stronger words in a text message he sent me yesterday:
MLGW ratepayers can’t afford for us to get this multi-billion dollar decision wrong. We should be seeking as much information as possible. Yesterday the Memphis City Council purposefully chose the path of ignorance because they were afraid the answers from a full RFP might not benefit some of their friends. Memphians should feel like they were cheated, because they were.
What else is happening in the 901
- For subscribers: Our Ted Evanoff takes a closer look at how the novel coronavirus pandemic has changed the Memphis restaurant scene, especially in the South Main neighborhood of Downtown. Also for subscribers: The Houston girls soccer team won a district title after a late comeback against Collierville, our Khari Thompson reports. (Not a subscriber? Please consider becoming one.)
- Our Laura Testino has an in-depth look at President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, and her time at Rhodes College in Memphis.
- Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond, who runs Princeton’s Eviction Lab program, addressed the nation’s coming evictions crisis during a virtual event this week, our Micaela Watts reports. That an especially timely conversation to have in Memphis, which had a high rate of evictions even before the pandemic.
- This Monday, Collierville will dedicate the U.S. Highway 72 bridge in honor of George T. Walker, who was the town’s first Black police officer and alderman — and its only victim of an unsolved homicide, our Dima Amro reports. Dima also reports that a Houston High senior who began researching cancer after a relative’s death is now slated to present his research at an MIT undergraduate conference.
- First-time voters can vote by mail if they requested an absentee ballot — but they may also have to include proof of identification, per The Associated Press.
- Our Jennifer Chandler checks in on Raven & Lilly, a charming little restaurant on the Collierville Town Square, and their new French puff pastries.
- The Tennessee Historical Commission plans to debate the removal of a bust of Memphian and Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest from the capitol this month, The Tennessean reports.
The Fadeout: Throwback Thursday
If you watched last night’s vice presidential debate, you might have noticed a party-crasher: a fly took a break on Vice President Mike Pence’s head for a while:
Many viewers were quick to send tweets, with some joking that the fly should get time to respond to the questions.
This throwback Fadeout’s for you, fly…
Like The Fadeout? Check out The 901’s Spotify playlist. Want to submit a recommendation of your own? Reach me by email, address below.
Columnist Ryan Poe writes The 901, a running commentary on all things Memphis. Reach him at [email protected] and on Twitter @ryanpoe.
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