Memphis council slashes education budget
By: The Associated Press
The Messenger 06.05.08 MEMPHIS (AP) — A rift between the Memphis City Council and the city school board continues with the council making deep cuts in the education budget. The ordinance that was passed Tuesday provides $20.2 million for the schools — a severe reduction from the $93.5 million the system requested. “It’s high time for parents to come out and require more accountability … from the school system,” said Councilwoman Wanda Halbert, who voted in the majority. Councilman Bill Morrison sponsored the ordinance and said Memphis residents are taxed twice — once because they live in the city and once by Shelby County — for education. “We simply want to phase this out,” he said. “This is about equalization of the tax base.” Morrison said the state’s largest school district should plan for another deep cut next year. The overall budget passed by the Council provides an 18-cent property tax reduction. Memphis Board of Education president Tomeka Hart said she was disappointed by the council’s decision. School system attorneys plan to meet with the Board of Education and could file a lawsuit, seeking more funds. The ordinance, which passed on a 10-3 vote, also includes $15 million in debt forgiveness for the schools, which the city started funding in 1937. The school system’s $931 million operating budget is also funded by the federal government and the state as well as city and county taxes. About 200 supporters lobbied the council to support the school system and came to the meeting holding signs. Martha Birkhead, a parent with children in city schools, urged the council to work with their Shelby County counterparts to find a solution that doesn’t mean drastic funding cuts. “This will be a slap in the face perception-wise to this city,” Birkhead said. “It is only going to show that this city does not value public education.” Council members cited a series of ongoing investigations at the school system involving waste and said the school board is not doing enough to trim the school system’s budget. Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton has said he would consider withholding money from the school system in an effort to force reforms and has long advocated consolidation of the Shelby County and Memphis public school systems.