Big Cuts and Small Ones

It may not be the best expression to use in light of world events, but the road map for analyzing the Memphis City Schools' $737 million budget should be the MGT of America consultants study, flawed though it may be.

Superintendent Johnnie Watson correctly points out, as the Flyer did when the study appeared in January, that the actual five-year "savings" found by the consultants is much less than the widely reported $114 million. That number included both $4.6 million in new revenue from a soft-drink sponsorship we agree is a bad idea and $37 million that would be saved by scrapping plans to build one middle school and one elementary school.

Watson says those schools "had already been removed from the list of schools to be built and funding was never appropriated." MGT says, if so, nobody told them.

Whatever. At least MGT drew attention to the continuing cost of maintaining schools with low enrollments and building new ones at an average cost overrun of 30 percent. And if you don't trust MGT, no less an authority than Mayor Willie Herenton, a former schools superintendent, has publicly stated several times that Memphis needs to close some schools and focus more on instruction and less on buildings.

MGT estimated that consolidating classes and schools could save $69 million. Subtracting $37 million still leaves $32 million. Why not look there instead of going through the motions of cutting and then replacing minor sports and elementary foreign-language instruction at a total cost of less than $3 million?

By the same token, the suggestion that overuse of cell phones is a big financial problem doesn't ring our bell either. Cell phones are a fact of life. Although cell phones are banned at school, thousands of students have them and, often as not, use them as electronic toys after hours. It's hypocritical to nickel and dime administrators and board members over their cell-phone use.

The administration and school board can't explain away the whole MGT study by saying 72 percent of its recommendations have been accepted while ignoring the largest potential savings. MGT defended its work "as former educators" who based their recommendations, for the most part, on facts and information given to them by the school system's teachers and administrators. The report should not be thrown out.

Herenton's Gamble

Mayor Willie Herenton is an overwhelming favorite to win reelection this fall, so it isn't as if he has to preempt challenger John Willingham's positions.

When the mayor said, as he reportedly did last week, that he favors casino gambling in Memphis and will work toward making it happen, we assume he means it. His outspoken endorsement is one more reason that the idea of turning The Pyramid into a casino some day should be taken seriously and examined on its merits.

Memphis and Tennessee can either act to keep casino gambling dollars and taxes at home or they can continue to help Mississippi fund its government operations. The Tennessee attorney general has said that lawmakers have the authority to legalize gambling, as they have already done with parimutuel betting and the lottery. All they lack is the will.

Herenton simply said once again what people have known for 11 years. Memphis has gambling already but without the tax benefits that go to Tunica and Mississippi. His willingness to say it again loud and clear removes one more excuse for state lawmakers to do nothing.



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