VOL. 123 | NO. 106 | Friday, May 30, 2008
Three Year Old AG Legal Opinion Raises Possibility of School Consolidation
By Bill Dries
Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton isn’t trying to talk the Memphis City Council out of cutting city funding to the city school system anymore.
Instead, Herenton outlined Thursday for the council a legal scenario under which a funding cut could lead to a single school system in Shelby County with single source local funding.
Council members are considering but have not yet voted on cutting all $93 million in funding the city of Memphis provides the school system. It amounts to roughly ten percent of the total school system funding with Shelby County government being the major local funder of the school system.
Herenton told council members that he learned Tuesday of a 2005 legal opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General’s office that lays out the following scenario:
If the city cuts any or all of its funding, the city school system would cease to exist under state standards. What had been the city schools would become the responsibility of Shelby County government and any state funding to the city school system would not be lost but would instead flow through county government.
That is the interpretation of City Attorney Elbert Jefferson and City Council attorney Allan Wade, both of whom fielded questions along with Herenton during a council budget committee session.
“This could not be all bad,” Herenton told council members. “Quite frankly, if the Memphis city council decides that it can no longer afford that portion of the tax rate and the responsibility of the funding goes to the county, then the Memphis Board of Education … is no longer in existence. That might not be all bad. The county could contract with an entity like the city of Memphis to provide educational services for the children in that municipality. It may be an opportunity.”
Herenton suggested that at least until some permanent structure for running a single school system was devised, county government could contract with city government to run the schools for the county.
For years, Herenton has periodically called for changing the structure of the school system to give City Hall or Shelby County government more control of the school system he once headed for 12 years. He has also advocated consolidation of the two public school systems.
Herenton stopped short Thursday of recommending that the council pursue the funding cut scenario. But several council members were elated at the prospect.
“We’d basically be consolidating the two school systems,” council member Jim Strickland said. “I’m trying to figure what the down side is. What’s the down side?” Other council members began laughing along with Herenton.
Read more about the unexpected and complicated option in Monday’s edition of The Daily News.