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Editorial Results (free)

1. Resignation Signals Change for Reform -

Irving Hamer made at least two, possibly three comments about a co-worker’s breasts last month at a private party.

2. Deputy MCS Superintendent Resigns Under Controversy -

Deputy Memphis City Schools Superintendent Irving Hamer announced his resignation Wednesday, March 14, from the school system effective at the end of April.

3. Countywide Board Denies Charter Schools -

As the Thanksgiving holiday weekend began, the countywide school board had put the two public school systems’ long-held ambivalence about charter schools on a fast track to Nashville.

The board on Tuesday, Nov. 22, denied the applications of 17 charter schools for Shelby County’s two public school systems claiming the fiscal impact of the schools would be too much of a financial hardship on each system – city and county.

4. Prescott Leads Schools Planning Commission -

Former Memphis City Schools board member Barbara Prescott is chairman on the new schools consolidation planning commission.

5. Engaging Students -

The second in a series about how the iPad is revolutionizing local business.

Like millions of other Americans, Bobby Ireland will be getting his iPad 2 this week and he’s looking forward to it.

6. Cash Reform Agenda Clashes With Referendum -

Two years into an aggressive reform agenda for the Memphis City Schools system, MCS Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash had a lot of points to cover on the next phase of that reform. But a lot of frustration came through as well this week.

7. Schoolhouse Shuffle -

On a cold February morning, a group of excited parents clustered in a tent in back of Kate Bond Elementary School.

8. Dueling Letters Set Stage For Thursday City Schools Discussion -

A series of letters exchanged over the past two weeks between attorneys for Memphis City Schools and the Memphis City Council suggests each side in the long-running school funding debate remains unlikely to give up any ground.

9. Points Pondered Before School Funding Decision -

Nancy Richie, executive director of fiscal services for Memphis City Schools, laid out some dire scenarios in her July testimony in Shelby County Chancery Court.

10. Council Views School System Claims With Jaundiced Eye -

Memphis City Schools Supt. Dr. Kriner Cash this week downplayed the latest changes in his portrayal of the school system’s economic bottom line.

He told the Memphis City Council Tuesday that eight teachers will be laid off instead of the 71 MCS planned to cut. He also has cut 322 unfilled positions, most of them administrative, from the school system’s budget.

11. Story Not Straight on MCS Layoffs -

Memphis City Council members left their public meeting at City Hall last week convinced they now have a more complete understanding of Memphis City Schools demographics. That feeling might prove to be short-lived.

12. City Schools, Council Sign Off on Funding -

Memphis City Schools leaders formally did this week what they already informally had done last week. They accepted the funding compromise offered by the Memphis City Council for the current fiscal year. But they threw in a surprise that council members made sure was not overlooked before both sides made it official.

13. Next Bell Rings for Crucial Funding Deal - Representatives of Memphis City Schools will be back in court soon to argue that a judge should force the school district and the Memphis City Council to negotiate new terms of a crucial funding deal.

But the circumstances MCS detailed in a court filing last week to show why the school district believes mediation is necessary have since changed in an important way.

The school district wants a court to force MCS and the city council to begin mediation to negotiate a compromise that preserves $423 million in state funding for the city schools. The deal they have now is a funding arrangement that was crafted at the same time the two sides remained locked in a pending Shelby County Chancery Court lawsuit over school funding.

Under the terms of the current funding compromise – which has the state’s blessing – the school district would be able to submit a balanced budget to the state even though the city council earlier this summer cut $66 million in funding to MCS. The City Council’s funding cut is what led to the school district’s lawsuit.

New stalemate

The deal approved by the state to keep the $423 million flowing to MCS took what had been described as a potential fiscal crisis off the table. Both sides will be back in court this morning, however, because MCS doesn’t like the terms of that deal.

Not only does MCS not like the terms of the funding deal, but in asking for the mediation, the school district pointed out that no decision about accepting the deal had yet been made by either MCS or the city council. MCS also argued that the nature of the opposing parties made it difficult to “effectively negotiate an agreement.”

“The State Department of Education has approved an outline for meeting maintenance of effort requirements,” the school district’s motion reads. “However, neither the Memphis City Schools nor the City Council has agreed to any arrangement which allows the Memphis City Schools to submit a legal budget and to avoid a … crisis.”

That’s no longer the case. The city council on Tuesday formally approved the terms of the funding compromise approved by the state.

Two weeks ago, the state commissioner of education gave his OK to the compromise deal, which had been weeks in the making. And while the compromise does not address the $66 million hole left by the council’s decision, it still keeps MCS from automatically losing the state’s larger funding contribution.

The fine print

Under the terms of the arrangement, MCS would transfer $57.5 million from its reserve funds to the city to settle a countersuit from the city over unpaid bond debt. The city, in turn, would give that money back to the school district so MCS can submit a budget to the state that maintains the school district’s state-mandated funding obligations.

But since the state’s acceptance of that plan was announced at the city council’s public meeting on Aug. 5, MCS officials have insisted the plan is unacceptable. They argue that the deal is not a genuine compromise because there is no net gain for the school district and because the district still will be forced to deplete the school’s reserve funds over time as a result of the council’s $66 million cut.

In an editorial written by school board president Tomeka Hart that appears in next week’s edition of The Memphis News, she argues: “When the transaction is final, the ‘financial position’ of MCS will not have changed, and it is easy to see that MCS will still have to make major cuts to its budget.”

Said Irving Hamer, the school district’s deputy superintendent of academic operations: “It’s very clear to me this is not full funding. This is what I call a pass-through. The money is coming from us, to the council then back to us. And that doesn’t correspond to my understanding of what full funding means.”

Context of compromise

But that misses the point of what the compromise was intended to do, the city likely will argue when the motion to compel mediation is heard Sept. 12.

“The issue of resolving the proposal with the state was never intended to encompass the $66 million. That is not on the table,” city council attorney Allan Wade said this week. “That is what they are arguing will make them financially unsound going into the future. That is a discussion we can have for another day, but that is not impacted in this proposal.

“This (compromise) is not intended to solve every problem MCS has. That’s what the lawsuit is about.”

At a council committee meeting Tuesday, council member Wanda Halbert rebuked MCS officials for criticizing a deal she said they had a hand in shaping.

“This compromise, or this agreement, was not reached by the city council alone. You all had representatives there,” she said. “And now to come back because you realize that whatever decision was made… that it doesn’t necessarily help you in the way you thought it would – there’s always a different way to approach it and deal with it.”

Final briefs in the chancery court school funding lawsuit were due this week. Chancellor Kenny Armstrong has not yet set a date to hear closing arguments.

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