Two pieces of news regarding the Memphis City Schools are enough, in tandem with other recent developments, to make us go "hmmm" regarding the current direction of MCS. And we haven't decided yet whether that's a sound of approval or one of disapproval. Mainly, it's just a "hmmm."
On the one hand, Superintendent Kriner Cash deserves congratulations for coming to a hard and politically painful decision on school closings — one that we have consistently called for in light of the shrinking enrollment of the school system at large and the general dispersal of the city's population. Cash, who has proposed shutting down no fewer than 50 antiquated and/or under-strength facilities, will have a fight on his hands from diehard proponents of the status quo and well-intentioned neighborhood advocates.
Cash's proposal comes soon after his highly public compact with Memphis mayor A C Wharton, who, not coincidentally, recently called for the adaptation of abandoned school properties as centers for various kinds of public and quasi-public activity. We are hopeful that other fruits of the two leaders' new relationship are not long in coming. This particular handoff will achieve some positive results while saving the taxpayers money.
On the other hand, we remain noncommittal but skeptical concerning what seems to us a highly grandiose salary bestowed by Cash and MCS and, by proxy, the taxpayers, on Jeffrey Hernandez, a former Cash colleague in the Miami/Dade County school system. The stated expectations seem to us as inflated as Hernandez' promised rate of compensation. For the mere pocket change of $1,500 a day (Hernandez' specially "discounted" rate), Cash's protégé is going to revolutionize the reading abilities of Memphis schoolchildren. We'll (gladly) believe it when it happens.
The Flyer and other Memphis news media have been deluged with protests and warnings from Floridians with personal experience of Hernandez' miracle working, and that particular jury is not only out, it's in with a guilty verdict: Hernandez didn't do what he said he would do, he charged too much for not doing it, and he was already on the Memphis taxpayers' cuff when he was supposed to be doing it down there.
We remain open-minded, but, unlike the Memphis School Board, which recently awarded Cash a B grade for his efforts so far, we're handing out an Incomplete.
We're especially inclined to do so, given another piece of recent news, regarding the City Council's claim — now being litigated — that MCS did not engage with the city government in good faith concerning a complicated "swap" deal that was supposed to have resolved the issue of the famous $57 million withheld from MCS by the council. Once that deal came unraveled, city government was thrown into crisis mode, with vital public services and facilities threatened with extinction. Though this imbroglio didn't begin on Cash's watch, it is his responsibility now.
We like what Cash did with his school-closing proposal. We're just hopeful that what he gives with one hand isn't taken away by the other.