Memphis Standoff Could Delay Schools' Start

fromWKNO

The school board and the city council are locked in a dispute that could delay next month's opening of city schools. The school board says classes won't start on Aug. 8 unless the city pays $55 million it owes in school funding. The mayor says he doesn't have the money. And besides, the city doesn't usually have to pay until September. The board and council rarely get along, so it's not clear if they will come up with a compromise in time for classes to start.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Now, in Memphis, Tennessee, school kids may get some extra summer vacation. The school board says classes won't start until the city council hands over $55 million. The city council and the mayor say they can't pay. Eleanor Boudreau of member station WKNO reports.

ELEANOR BOUDREAU: School is scheduled to start August 8, but the city owes its schools money from the past three years and school board members say they don't trust Memphis that pay that debt or to pony up all of what it owes for the coming year. The school's chief financial officer, Pamela Antsey, told the city council and a room full of angry parents and teachers that the city's chronic underfunding has forced the schools to dip into their reserves and created uncertainty.

Ms. PAMELA ANTSEY (Chief Financial Officer, Memphis Schools): So for us to open and not know would be fiscally irresponsible because we can't open, start the program and then stop.

BOUDREAU: City council leaders say paying $55 million right now will tank the city's bond rating. And they say it's not necessary to start school. Council chairman Myron Lowry said that the city is not the schools' only or even largest funder.

Mr. MYRON LOWRY (Chairman, Memphis City Council): You say you're going to delay schools because you don't have 10 percent in your pocket. That doesn't make any kind of sense.

BOUDREAU: The two sides are trying to hash out a deal. It would likely involve a downpayment by the city in August and an installment plan after that. But given the bad blood, there's no guarantee of an agreement.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Boudreau in Memphis.

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