Herenton suggests sweeping changes for Memphis City Schools - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Herenton suggests sweeping changes for Memphis City Schools

At a press conference Monday, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton proposed sweeping changes he said were needed at the top of Memphis City Schools in order to bring funding for the system back in line.

Herenton said he would suggest legislation to the Memphis City Council at a meeting Tuesday that would give the Memphis mayor the power to select the city school system's superintendent and school board members.

"I will respectfully request that the Memphis City Council consider drafting and supporting a city wide referendum that could be held in November, 2008," he said.

Herenton's proposed school board would contain five members. Council members would have to approve mayoral appointments, Herenton added.

"It is that body that takes the heat for raising taxes, but has no direct overseeing of the operation of the schools," he said.

Herenton's proposal would turn Memphis City Schools into a division of the city of Memphis. The plan, he said, would help efficiency and accountability.

Herenton said his proposal would also include the creation of a Joint Board of Control, a seven member body appointed by the Memphis and Shelby County mayors that would administer school construction.

During Monday's press conference, Herenton pleasded with the school board and city council to come together on a solution for MCS funding, rather than risk a suggested $423 million funding cut from the Tennessee Department of Eduction.

"The state has the authority to withhold funding," he said. "Whether they will or not, I'm not willing to take that risk."

The mayor said he feared the matter would end up in court.

"I know what's going to happen," he said. "The school board is going to file suit.  We're going to be in court.  One governmental body will sue another.  Some may sue the state, and the school children will be in the middle of a political fight."

Herenton made it clear he's afraid the council's actions cutting funding to city schools could trigger a reaction from the state that would be devastating to schools. He is not willing to take a chance to find out what the state will do. The mayor is now a man on a mission.

Mayor Willie Herenton fears the city schools system could collapse if  city council members don't back off on their plan to withhold $70 million from the school budget.

"If we keep going the way we are going now, I see suits and counter suits. I see possibly the state board of education taking over making an example out of Memphis," Herenton said.

The mayor said in a news conference he fears the state of Tennessee will withhold $423 million from the Memphis city school system.

Memphis city council member Myron Lowery said the council approved $27 million in funding for city schools and it would take a miracle for the vote to change.

"The council passed this by a vote of 10 to 3. It's highly unlikely that 4 people will change their minds," Lowery said.

The council's cuts to the school budget would allow an 18 cent reduction in the property tax rate. Ssomething council member Shea Flinn says is important.

"Look at the inequities the citizens of Memphis have to bear and we're saying this has to end if the city is going to move forward," Flinn said.

The mayor even admitted in the news conference that he doesn't know if he can convince the city council to change its mind. But he is going to try. 

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