Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mayors' Meeting with Bredesen Postponed

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2008 at 4:00 AM

The scheduled meeting Thursday between mayors Willie Herenton and A C Wharton and Gov. Phil Bredesen to discuss school consolidation has been postponed.

Mayor Herenton's office sent out an announcement Wednesday. Wharton later confirmed that he concurred with the decision.

"The mayors feel that more research and consultation must take place prior to the meeting so that the governor may be presented with the best possible solutions to help our school systems. Due diligence and community support is important to this process," stated the announcement, which was sent out under City of Memphis letterhead rather than as a joint announcement.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Wharton repeated his objections to school consolidation and his disagreement with Herenton.

"You don't get to see the governor often to ask his help, and when you do you don’t want to squander it by not having the specificity that he needs," Wharton said.

The proposed meeting was announced last weekend in the wake of Herenton restating his support for full consolidation of city and county government, including the school systems. Wharton subsequently said that he does not support school consolidation, but it appeared the meeting would go forward anyway until Wednesday's surprise announcement.

"Let the community be assured that all stakeholders will be involved in this process to determine what is best for our school system," the Herenton statement said. "These stakeholders will include the city, county and state government and education officials, as well as community leaders.

The goal of my proposal regarding the school systems is to empower government to take a more active role in charting the path of public education in Memphis and Shelby County."

One of the many controversial aspects of consolidation is Herenton's suggestion that state lawmakers make it possible for a city-only vote to be required to make it happen. County residents and elected officials have strongly objected to that. Bredesen spokeswoman Lydia Lenker said the postponement was apparently Herenton's idea, or at least it was not Bredesen's idea.

"They called for the meeting and it was to be held tomorrow," she said. "Then today we got word they decided not to hold the meeting. So it is coming from their end."

Wharton said he and Herenton "have some more work to do" on specific plans.

"On my end, I am burdened with the cost on the three-for-one funding formula," Wharton said. "I have made it clear throughout that I would not seek nor support any larger role by county government."

The county has to spend roughly $3 on city schools for every $1 it spends on county schools construction under the present attendance-based funding formula.

--John Branston

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