On the same day, ironically, that city government and the school board were locking horns in Chancery Court over next year's funding, the incoming schools superintendent and the city's longstanding mayor made public peace at a City Hall reception that ushered in a new and uncertain era for both local institutions.
Mayor Willie Herenton, a former superintendent and unofficial aspirant for the school position himself, had groused out loud weeks ago about a school board search process that yielded up what he termed "third-raters." The mayor was more diplomatic at Thursday's reception, going so far as to offer the school board's new hire, Miami educator Kriner Cash, an apology.
Though the apology had more to do with the uncertain conditions awaiting Cash than with Herenton's implied insult, the new superintendent was happy to accept the mayor's conciliatory words anyhow. Foreseeing no problem in co-existing with the main man in City Hall, Cash put it this way in an interview after the brief ceremony: "We all know why Herenton said what he did." He then gave a stoic shrug and said, "And if they think they can find somebody better, they can go back into the [search] pool."
As for Herenton, he in fact found much to praise about the new man, citing in his prepared remarks Cash's "background and skills and...passion" and commending Cash later for being of like mind with himself on specific issues. "He's in favor of subdividing the school system into manageable districts, which was one of my ideas as a school superintendent," the mayor said, going on to predict that he and Cash would enjoy a "great relationship."
That relationship was due to get its first test on Friday at Ridgeway High School, where the two men will engage in a one-on-one basketball competition of some sort.
Asked about the competing lawsuits that got their first hearing before an overflow audience in the courtroom of Chancellor Kenny Armstrong on Thursday, Herenton made a point of dissociating himself from the city council's counter-suit against Memphis City Schools. The council suit asks for$152 million in compensation for expended school bonds and was filed as a response to MCS's own suit seeking to regain almost $70 million withheld from the school system by the city council last month.
Herenton noted pointedly that the mayor's office and the city administration as such were "not part of any counter-suit" and declared "there ought to be some compromises on school funding" so as to prevent harm to the education of the city's school children.
The mayor declined to comment on a bizarre rumor, widely circulated on Thursday, that he was the subject of a federal indictment. The rumor was explicitly repudiated by assistant U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza.