The Memphis City Schools administration and board agreed Friday to put nine minor sports such as soccer and tennis back in the $735 million budget.
All eight board members approved the decision at a Budget Committee meeting where Supt. Johnnie Watson made the proposal, reversing a controversial plan that attracted widespread media attention earlier this week. The board also agreed to put back funds for a literacy initiative, research and testing, and the planetarium. The total cost of the items given a second life is $1,244,000. Watson said the money would come out of a two-percent savings in healthcare costs for the school system from Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Approval wont be final until a board meeting Monday night. There are still likely to be several comments from parents, students, teachers, and interested citizens about other cuts. Some board members indicated they are not happy with the remaining cuts in areas such as foreign languages and music. At least 30 citizens have signed up to speak at the meeting but the about-face on minor sports could defuse much of the controversy.
Watson was responding to a $32 million deficit in the school system budget which he blamed on the Shelby County Commission. Board member Hubon Sandridge singled out commissioners Bruce Thompson and Marilyn LoeFfel for an angry lecture in front of television cameras.
I will deal with both of them individually, he vowed.
Sandridge said he resented suggestions that the school administration was using scare tactics by suggesting the cuts in sports. The commissioners said the schools could save a lot more money by closing underused school buildings than by making small cuts in things that directly impact students.