Danger and Opportunity 

One revealing measure of the current crisis mode in local government is the extent to which educational spending, traditionally the most sacred of cows at budgetary decision time, has become instead one of the prime targets for cost reduction.

So far, a majority of the members of the Memphis City Council are holding firm on their resolve of last month to cut some $67 million from the council's normal annual contributions to Memphis City Schools. The consequences of that decision are yet to be calculated, and the decision itself is under continuing challenge.

The Shelby County Commission, for its part, has also elected to tighten up the taplines. Both Shelby County Schools board chairman David Pickler and county schools superintendent Bobby Webb made their annual pilgrimage to the commission last week, seeking an additional $56,000 for administrative personnel. A coalition of the commission's conservatives and liberals returned a flat no to the request and simultaneously postponed the commission's approval of this year's education budget.

Given the fact that, under any circumstances, the buck stops with the county, which has constitutional responsibility for educational spending in both city and county systems, and that October 1st is the terminal date for resolving the multiple eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations going on, something has to give — and soon.

Commendably, members of both local legislative bodies are rethinking the realities of funding for public education. In the process, ideological, racial, and partisan differences are going by the wayside. We previously congratulated Bill Morrison, author of the council's funding-cut initiative, and we see no reason to back off from that praise. We also applaud such novel but common-sense suggestions as Commissioner Mike Ritz's proposal that the county sue the state to enforce reinstatement of former governor Ned McWherter's original Basic Education Plan formula, under which the state undertook to bear a larger share of the local education burden than it does at present.

Another commissioner, Mike Carpenter, has proposed to head up a cross-governmental panel to come up with new solutions for the various catch-22s that confront local government and local education, and we say, You go, boy! Even under less dire financial circumstances, the current Average Daily Attendance formula governing allocation of capital resources between city and county systems would have outlived its usefulness. In today's straitened atmosphere it mocks reality.

That famous Chinese ideogram in which the concepts of "danger" and "opportunity" occupy the same commingled space applies to the current predicament. Whether the changes turn out to be constitutional or merely statutory, changes have to be agreed on by city, county, and state and by the overlapping and competing authorities within each of those jurisdictions. And, let's see, we can get all this done by World Series time, right?


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