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Memphis School Board Demands City Pay Millions Due

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The Memphis school board called Monday for a showdown at City Hall over school funding, saying it is out of patience with the litigate-and-wait strategy that has cost schools $70 million since 2008 and untold legal fees.

The most recent shortfall is $9 million that was due the district by June 15, said school board attorney Dorsey Hopson.

The 2011-12 city budget includes money for schools, but Hopson advised the school board not to count on that money, considering the City Council's history of withholding money or delaying payments.

Council member Shea Flinn told The Commercial Appeal late Monday that the 2011-12 budget passed in June sets aside $85 million for MCS.

The amount includes $20 million as a down payment on the court settlement for an unpaid $57 million from 2008.

Next week, Supt. Kriner Cash is expected to tell the board what cuts would be necessary if it doesn't get the money from the city budget.

It would be either 1,500 jobs or every arts program, athletic team, JROTC corps and counseling program the district offers, Cash said.

The school board will meet privately with Hopson to discuss strategy. But the strategy worked out in the public meeting is to mobilize citizen frenzy.

"It will have to be a political power play, not a legal power play, that is going to get our kids funded," said board member Dr. Jeff Warren. "Our power rests in the families and citizens that value public education not being cut off at the knees by the City Council.

"... This is our time. People have to know what they are doing. Otherwise they can't put pressure on the council."

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Without a specified budget from the city, the schools can't plan. This year and last year, the board had to cut funding to the charter schools because the school board hadn't been paid.

"It's been nothing but utter confusion regarding the money," Hopson told the board, saying on one hand the City Council approves funds and then says it does not have to pay because it can't collect them.

Hopson described City Council members as risk takers who have taken every risk, including defying the court that ordered it to pay $57 million for 2008.

He sees no redress in filing more suits, saying the city simply drags out the process.

Flinn made it clear that the money will be paid to the court because the city is afraid any payment to the city schools in the coming year will be construed as maintenance of effort due the unified district after consolidation.

"We don't want them to get hooked on it as maintenance of effort," Flinn said. He also said the $9 million shortfall would be paid when the lawyers for the two parties meet.

Hopson said he had requested a meeting but heard nothing back.

He also says the city by this time of the year has always requested a budget hearing for the coming year with the city schools. No hearing has been set yet.

But Flinn says there is plenty of time because the budget isn't settled until September.

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