Budget Disagreement in Memphis Threatens to Delay School Year

Hopefully school children in Memphis don’t look to their city government and school board for a lesson in cooperation.

School children in Memphis probably shouldn't look to their city government and school board for a lesson in cooperation.

A fierce budgetary disagreement between the city and the school board threatens to delay the start of the school year indefinitely, reported.

School leaders say the city was supposed to find funding for a $78 million budget shortfall, but after months of tenuous debate between, an agreement was elusive, a school official said.

Kriner Cash, the schools’ superintendent, said schools enter the fourth year of “fiscal instability.” Besides this year’s gap, he said the city owes the schools about $73 million in additional funding from past years.

"This is the year where I can't do it anymore (cut funding) and still run a quality school system," he said.

Hence, the school board voted, 8-1, Tuesday night to postpone school until the city hands over $55 million in tax revenue it says it has set aside for the system this coming year, The Commercial Appeal reported. The school board says the city owes significantly more than that after several years of shortfalls.

City leaders, however, call the school board's claims exaggerated and say it rushed to inform the media about talks.

"We have to take this seriously," Shea Flinn, a councilman, said, according to Reuters. "But we are not going to shortchange them. The saber-rattling is unnecessary."

Flinn told the Memphis Flyer that some have exaggerated the amount the city owes the schools in suggesting it's as high as $151 million. He said that figure is more likely $5 million.

Reuters reported that the city pays less than 10 percent of the school system's costs. The schools maintain a $1.2 billion budget, covered mainly by federal, state, local and private sources.

“We could pull the $55 million out, but gee whiz, it would hurt everyone,” Mayor A.C. Wharton said, during a Wednesday news conference. Wharton mentioned the city’s credit rating and other potential layoffs if the funds are withdrawn.

A federal judge is expected to rule on court challenges and countersuits as early as the end of July, Reuters reported. The ruling could determine that Memphis does not have to make its annual schools contribution.

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