Just Say No,” Simon Doggett

February 6, 2019; Chalkbeat

In the wake of a long line of failures of philanthropic intervention into public school systems, it appears that at least one school board may escape the siren song of philanthropy if, as a committee has recommended, it chooses to reject an offer from the Memphis Education Fund to cover the costs of a search for a new superintendent of schools.

The Memphis Education Fund works with a pool of private dollars that other charities have contributed, including the Hyde Foundation and Pyramid Peak.

“I think we need to be cautious about what that looks like if we have an outside entity paying for the search,” said board member Miska Clay Bibbs, who said that after receiving calls from constituents, she preferred the district foot the bill to avoid an appearance of “bias.”

“We know that we are in control of the process. I just want to make sure” that there is community buy-in and the process is “fair and transparent,” Bibbs said.

The Fund says it was just trying to help the system avoid anticipated “problems” in the required public procurement processes. Those processes, of course, are in place to ensure a fair search. They are a part of the accountability system of local government, and this makes the offer itself somewhat inappropriate, reminding us of other philanthropic bypassing of public systems even outside of education. In Baltimore, readers may recall, an aerial public surveillance system was funded without public consultation through this kind of workaround grant. These kinds of interventions can only weaken our democratic systems and bring their integrity into question.

In another meeting yesterday, teachers and community members also expressed opposition to the funding. One teacher at Bethel Grove Elementary said, “We don’t want any outside influence. We don’t need your money. When people come to finance, they want to take control.”—Ruth McCambridge