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School Districts Present Final Budgets before Merger

For the first time in years there's not a shred of controversy over the proposed budgets of either Memphis City or Shelby County Schools. They are keeping everything basically the same as they prepare for next year when both systems merge.
MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - For the first time in years there's not a shred of controversy over the proposed budgets of either Memphis City or Shelby County Schools. They are keeping everything basically the same as they prepare for next year when both systems merge.

You can call both budgets the just-make-it-through-the-next-year budgets, because this is the last time there will be two budgets for two school systems. Nobody wants to add anything so they're keeping the whole thing simple.

Memphis City Schools Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash didn't even show up for the budget presentation. That's a big deal. The system said he was out of town.

Kriner Cash was never out of town for a budget hearing in the past, so this is yet another clear sign he's out of here soon. He's not missing much.

"I think we've been told that there's not going to be a tax increase. We've heard that message loud and clear," said John Aitken, Superintendent of Shelby County Schools.

He isn't asking for any more money in his new budget. The key is to just get through the upcoming year and get ready for the earth to move under your feet in August of next year when merger mania hits.

"My staff has done a phenomenal job," Aitken said. "We've collaborated with Memphis City School staff, so some good things have been coming out."

Staff members presented the city schools budget. Again, they're not asking for any more money. Of course with a budget of roughly one billion bucks, there have been questions over the years as to how they could possibly need more money.

The city schools made cuts, fired 75 people, and dipped into their reserve savings funds to make sure everything comes out even. They even closed three schools.

The Transition Planning Committee wants to close more than 20 city schools by merger time, which led to an exchange between Commissioner Mike Ritz and MCS finance expert Pamela Ansley.

"I would hope and pray you would not spend money on additions to schools you're going to close?" asked Ritz.
"No," Ansley replied.
"Is that a pretty obvious question?"
Ansley answered, "Yeah."

Both school systems say enrollment is going down. In county schools, it has been dropping for the last three years.

Aitken said, "For the last three years we've seen that. I think when the economic recession hit, I guess two, three years ago, when it first hit real hard we started seeing that. A lot of other things can affect it, but I think it's all attributable to the economy."

If the suburbs of Memphis get their own systems going, of course the enrollment will drop like a rock. That's important, because school systems get their money based on enrollment.

There are signs that the next few months are going to be very difficult as far as the merger is concerned. In fact, Unified School Board President Billy Orgel said people need to forget their differences and get to work.

"We need to start integrating the departments and we need to stop any resistance," he said, "I've been telling staff the resistance needs to stop. This is going to happen in August 2013."

The city still must give MCS about $65 million or so for this final school year, and city school officials told commissioners they are still waiting for $54 million the city owes from 2008.

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