MEMPHIS, TN – The financial fight between Memphis and the Memphis City Schools has been raging for months.
On Friday, July 29, 2011, former Memphis Mayor and former MCS Superintendent, Willie Herenton, took to the airwaves to offer his perspective on the whole mess.
Herenton was a guest on WLOK Radio as host Joe P. Washington asked, who's better to supply an insider’s opinion?
While trying to be diplomatic, Herenton didn’t pull any punches in explaining the current predicament.
“If you want to blame a particular political entity,” said Herenton, “that blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the Memphis City Council in 2008.”
So, what did the council do in 2008?
“They ignored my advice.” Herenton said.
That advice was to not withhold money from the schools. If you do, he advised the council, put the cash in escrow. Neither of those things happened.
“The council played a hand in 2008,” Herenton told abc24.com, “and they played the wrong hand and it backfired on them.”
All of which brings us to the situation between the city and the schools in 2011.
“We’re on the national agenda,” said Herenton. “It’s an embarrassment to even consider not opening our schools as planned.”
While he was on the air on WLOK, Herenton discussed where he thought the schools were headed in the future.
“If you think we’re having financial difficulties this year," he said, "you wait until next year. Next year is going to be catastrophic."
And while acknowledging the bad call in 2008, Herenton feels present city government carries a large part of the blame for the current problems.
“If I had been in the mayor’s office after the courts made a ruling," he said, "I would have abided by the ruling and paid the schools. So, I think clearly we have had an absence of leadership on this particular issue and the school board did precisely what they were forced to do.”
What school leaders felt they were forced to do was not to open the school doors until they got paid.
And the distractions just keep piling on for MCS students.
“Yes, there are distractions all the time,” MCS superintendent Kriner Cash said during a recent media briefing, “but what we can’t have is fiscal instability. We just can’t have it.”
So, where is all the money supposed to come from in order for city government to pay MCS? The city council and Mayor A C Wharton's administration are dipping into the city's rainy day fund.
“I think this is real dicey financial maneuvering,” said Herenton. “At the end of the day adequate funding for city schools is not there. It simply is not there.”
Herenton said when he left the mayor’s office there was $96 million in the city reserves. Now, there's about $72 million, with tens of millions earmarked for school payments and another $13 million expected to fund a new retirement program for Memphis sanitation workers.
Memphis' longest serving mayor says there are only so many ways you can slice the same pie.
Herenton does remain optimistic the Memphis City Council will do the right thing on Tuesday, August 1st and approve the MCS budget for the upcoming year.