City leaders react to Supreme Court's decision - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

City leaders react to court's decision to not consider school funding case

By Anna Marie Hartman - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - After a two year legal tug of war, the city of Memphis will have to give back $57 million in education funding cut from the city's budget two years ago, after the Tennessee Supreme Court refused this week to hear the case on appeal.  

"By not taking that case, they leave in effect that lower court order which means the city has to pay the schools," Memphis City Council member Jim Strickland said Thursday.

Rather than hold on to the money until the lawsuit was resolved, Strickland said, the money was spent, mostly on city employee pay raises and new hires.  

"It was a too much of a cut, and all the money was spent on City Hall," he said.

Now, the Tennessee Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case leaves city officials wondering how they'll honor the payments owned to the city's school system.

Thursday, Mayor A C Wharton said he will meet with the with the Memphis City Schools Board of Commissioners in the coming days to ask if the city can split up the payment into installments. Then, city officials will be asked to put together a laundry list of ideas on how to come up with the money.

"We're going to meet the challenge," Wharton said. "It's to our schools. If you have to spend money, what better place than on schools?"

But Strickland, who wanted the city to save the money until the lawsuit was resolved, warned that the road ahead will be tough.

"I think people ought to be prepared that the council may raise their taxes," he said. "I'm not gonna do it, but I'm afraid the majority of the Council may do it."

Wharton said he hasn't ruled out raising taxes to cover the cost.

"I don't want to deceive or mislead the public. $57 million is a lot of money to come up with," he said.

Nancy Morrow, a Memphis taxpayer, said she isn't willing to pay the price for the city's failure to plan ahead.

"I think that it should have been budgeted when this came up in the first place, and there should have been a reserve made," she said.

But some city school board members aren't feeling sympathetic to the city's plight.  

"The reckoning day is today, but I don't think it would be fair for the City Council to say that 'we're gonna raise your taxes' because of Memphis City Schools," board member Martavius Jones said.

For Strickland, a tax increase is not an option.  

"We can't raises taxes again to pay for this judgement," he said. "We have to cut and make up the difference that way."

Wharton said his administration will first look at how to cut from within, including some services.  But, he added, one thing that will not be compromised is public safety.

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