Herenton presents school plan to Memphis City Council - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Jason Miles

Herenton presents school plan to Memphis City Council

As a former superintendent and longtime mayor, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton on Tuesday told the Memphis City Council what he thinks is best.

"The governing structure, I think, needs change," he said.

Herenton requested that the council put on the November ballot his plan to overhaul Memphis City Schools - a plan that gives the mayor power to appoint school board members the superintendent.

The mayor claimed his plan is not a power grab. "Those of you who know me know it's not about me," he said.

Rather, the mayor said, he wants the new rules to take effect after he is gone. "I would recommend to you that a new governance not take place until 2012."

In a news conference of his own Tuesday morning, council member Bill Morrison, who spear-headed the slashing of school funds, stood by the decision.

"We need to hold the line," he said. "I would encourage my fellow council member to hold the line."

Hold the line when it comes to funding, Morrison said, and the mayor's new plan.

"We do not need an appointed school board," he said. "We do not need to appoint a superintendent."

At Tuesday's committee meeting, council members listened to what the mayor had to say, but no one gave any indication as to whether his request will be given serious consideration.

Herenton' plan would form a school board, with members appointed by the mayor, that would contain five members. The mayor would also appoint the school system's superintendent. Council members would have to approve mayoral appointments.

The proposal would also 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.

While pitching his plan to overhaul the Memphis school district, Herenton took aim at the council.

"I respect the decision you've made," he said. "I don't agree with your decision."

Herenton was referring to the decision to cut nearly $70 million in funding to Memphis City Schools.  He and school leaders fear it the cut has opened the door for the state of Tennessee to follow suit, cutting a combined $500 million dollars in funding to the school system.

At his press conference, backed up by council Attorney Allan Wade, Morrison said no blame lies with the council.

"I would remind you that my original proposal eliminated all the money for Memphis City Schools," Morrison said.

Morrison and Wade claim the Mayor's threat of monumental cuts from the state is a scare tactic, that the state itself has yet to send the city any such signal, and that the city council is not fearful of any legal wrangling with the school district.

"So, if they want to step up and make that decision, then I think it would be 'game on' at that point in time," Wade said.

Some members of the council fully expect a court fight.

"There's going to be a battle," council member Joe Brown said. "At the end of the day, there's going to be winners and there's going to be losers."

Most council members said there is little chance they will reverse their decision on funding cuts.  However, several said they were open to further discussion.

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