Asked by school board member (and Cash nemesis) Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr. to weigh in on the charter surrender debate Monday night, Cash delivered a passionate defense of a compromise agreement the board rejected 5-4 and a blast at certain board members, the media, and Shelby County schools leadership and made a veiled threat to resign.
The Cash blast came in the fifth hour of a six-hour meeting in which the board voted 5-4 to surrender the Memphis City Schools charter subject to a voter referendum within 60 days.
Whalum asked Cash to give his view of the pros and cons of a three-year cooling off period during which an impact study of school consolidation would be done.
"I really don't know," replied Cash, who said nothing at a "summit" meeting on schools week and had been quiet for the first hours of debate at Monday's meeting. Then his mood changed and he got a few things off his chest.
By pushing surrender, he said, board members were "leading to a street fight, and if you want to get it on, then you will get that."
His voice rising, Cash said "I've been fighting since I got here" three years ago for incarcerated youth and against giving grades of "F" to black kids who had been getting slapped with failure all their lives.
"You were failing children and you didn't have a problem with it," he said.
Then he turned his fire on board member Tomeka Hart and others who invoked the civil rights struggle in their remarks.
"You should have done that a long time ago," he said. "You didn't need (Shelby County school board chairman) David Pickler to make you a civil libertarian."
The crowd, which had filled the auditorium at 5:30 but lost some heft as the hours went on, was now his.
"I know about fighting," said Cash. "It's easy to fight. But it's smarter not to."
He said he didn't know much, however, about the Shelby County schools which MCS could conceivably become a part of, and he blamed the media for playing favorites and picking on MCS while giving Shelby County a pass. "And you want to go join them," he said, with obvious contempt.
The surrender movement, he said, was short-sighted. "Noise," he called it, and "the same noise" Monday night. "We have to operationalize your decision," he told the board. "Not one of you asked me what's going to happen to our work."
He returned to the fighting theme. "This is junior-high fighting nonsense." Then he said he might quit. "I'll give it over to somebody else. I'll give it to 'em today."
The voters of Memphis, he said, "are not ready to decide on this issue." The board is divided and the community is divided. The school system is "destabilized" and "fragile."
"This is not about children. This is just bad politics."
His mood cooling somewhat, he closed with an appeal to board members to "back up and work together" because Shelby County school representatives would probably "get together by Christmas" if Memphis proceeds with charter surrender.
Whalum, clearly impressed, said "Let the record reflect that I'm glad I asked."
Had Whalum moved to stop debate — calling the question in parliamentary procedure — and vote right then, Cash's emotion could possibly have carried the day. But it was another 45 minutes before the vote came, first on the rejected compromise and then on the surrender motion.
Cash fired one more blast at the crowd members who showed up to support charter surrender. Some of them represented Midtown schools like Peabody and Idlewild, which Cash said will be fine no matter what. He said he was worried about inner-city schools like Alcy Elementary and Northside High School and "people who are not here today and they're not going to vote" in the referendum.
His remarks did not sit well with board member Tomeka Hart, one of the main backers of charter surrender. She called his remarks "very disrepectful."
"I heard some personal insults," said Hart, who delivered what amounted to the closing argument for surrender.
She noted that she was on the school board for three years before Cash came to Memphis and knew a few things he did not about dealing with Shelby County.
Cash gave one of those "if I offended anyone" apologies, but clearly he had spoken from the heart. So had Hart, and that is where we are this morning.