Discussion of bond issue stirs controversy

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Discussion of a bond issue stirred controversy with a Memphis City Council committee Tuesday.

Superintendent Kriner Cash entered the room in sunglasses as Memphis City School Board member Kenneth Whalum, the man who initiated the meeting, made his argument for the City of Memphis to float a bond issue for the schools.

"Here's what will happen if you help us with this bond issue: It will give us a year to do more of this cutting," Whalum said. "To do more of this fat trimming."

Whalum said he wants the city to sell bonds on the school system's behalf, like an IOU.  The city would eventually have to pay back the bonds, but with interest.  This comes after the council cut $66 million in school funding to give residents an 18% property tax cut.

"To me, it doesn't make sense to float a bond on our behalf and put further debt on city schools if in fact you're suing us for a balance of $152M," Cash said. "It just doesn't make sense."

Cash says the "fat" isn't what it seems, and the school system isn't top heavy as people perceive. According to Cash, only 1.8% of his staff is administrative. But things got sketchy when he started sharing more numbers.  Cash told council members he only actually cut 19 teachers instead of 71 initially reported due to the $66 million cut.

"Superintendent Cash, maybe I need to get with you because even now, every time y'all come here, we get new data," council member Shea Flinn said.

School Board President Tomeka Hart argued misperceptions would come out of this meeting, too, because it was a one-way discussion with the council asking most of the questions.

"The meeting's about to end, and there are some statements that need to be made," she said.

At least one council member agreed.

"Fifteen minutes was totally disrespectful," Barbara Swearengen Ware said. "I apologize to you all."

Council members and school leaders decided to meet again so they can have more time together.  The Shelby County Commission is also hosting an upcoming education summit so all parties involved can talk.

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