Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cash and Herenton Bury the Hatchet

Posted By on Wed, Sep 12, 2012 at 1:24 PM

Eight times they met for breakfast in a restaurant in the Westin Hotel downtown, Kriner Cash the superintendent with an uncertain future in a unified school system and Willie Herenton the former superintendent who wanted to hold the job again before Cash got it instead.

The meetings began in February and continued for several weeks. Seven months after they buried the hatchet, Cash and Herenton held a joint press conference Wednesday to announce the former mayor's participation in a new charter school for juvenile offenders.

It isn't clear exactly who reached out to whom and how. Cash recalled that he sought out Herenton to fill a niche in the school system well suited to his experience and personal biography as a home-grown Memphian raised by a single mother. Herenton said he reached out to Cash as well as Shelby County Schools Superintendent John Aitken and others to help him get back in the schools game. Whatever, the two men met and apparently the talk was unfiltered.

"Straight talk, real straight talk," said Herenton, adding that if the meetings had been taped "you would have heard some dynamic interaction."

"We would tease each other," said Cash. "I asked him 'why do you want to take our money?' " — a reference to the state funding that follows students who go to charter schools. They ate pancakes, and all of the meetings were one-on-one.

At the news conference, Herenton said the final form of the new school isn't clear yet but "my personal hand, my professional hand, will be all over this program."

The announcement and photo op came a day after Cash gave what seemed to be a farewell speech at Memphis Botanic Gardens to 134 Memphis teachers honored by their peers as the best at their individual schools. He said his role now is to ease the transition to the unified school system and the 14 new charter schools that have been approved. He is undergoing a personal transition as well as a widower looking for another job. He expects to be gone by the end of the year and is a finalist for a superintendent job in Florida.

Herenton, on the other hand, has been on the outside looking in since leaving the mayor's office. His attempt to be named superintendent failed when the school board instead opted to do a national search and ultimately selected Cash, of whom Herenton has occasionally been openly critical. Herenton's image was tarnished again when he was trounced by Steve Cohen in his bid for Congress. After that he turned his attention to what he has said many times was his first love, education.

I met with Herenton at the Flyer's office (a change, to be sure) in January when his charter school application was being slow walked in Nashville. He wasn't ready to go public with his frustration, but he was considering other means of getting a piece of the charter deal if he didn't make any progress soon. Within weeks, he and Cash started meeting.

And a year from now, Willie Herenton could be a player again in Memphis education while Kriner Cash is somewhere else.

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