Council, MCS Meet on School Funding



New Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash may have initially said he could figure out a way to live with the City Council’s $66 million cut. But on Thursday night, at a public meeting held at BRIDGES U.S.A. in Memphis’ Uptown neighborhood, the superintendent was singing a different tune.

Whatever may have been said or done in the past, it’s clear that the superintendent and his team have determined that MCS needs the city funding commitment, not just this year, but in perpetuity.

The seats at Bridges were filled with City Council members, Memphis City Schools board representatives, parents, and teachers. The public’s questions regarding the school system’s budget, teacher raises, possible layoffs, taxes, and optional funding were addressed but not always answered. Concerns were seldom allayed.

Cash referred to a gloomy power point presentation and said that without the additional funding, jobs would be lost, textbooks won’t be replaced, initiatives won’t be launched, and significant additional cuts will have to be made in years to come as the system fails to meet its mandated cash reserves.

Cash justified six-figure salaries offered to new hires by saying he was putting his new team together and the generous salaries were market value. He also said that a majority of the job cuts would come from system’s main office and administration.

The superintendent’s presentation assumed yearly increases in operating costs though school enrollment has been in decline.

The proposed compromise between the city and the school system is, quite literally, passing the buck.

The school district would transfer $57.5 million from its reserves to the city, an amount the council says it’s owed. The city would then give the $57.5 million back to the school system, which would allow the district to balance its 2008-2009 budget.

The problem, according to the school system, is that the one-time transfer of $57. 5 million doesn’t replace the funding stream the school district loses if the council continues to withhold funding and, if projections reflect reality, MCS could witness a budget shortfall of $14 million by 2010.

The dialogue between the city, the school district, and the public was hampered somewhat by a series of ground rules designed to allow such a meeting in light of a pair of lawsuits the city and the school district have filed against one another. -- by Chris Davis

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