Friday, February 6, 2009

Cash on Cash

431,232, 142

431,232, 142

431,232, 142

That's the number Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash has burned into his brain — 431,232,142 — the one he recites from memory like Hurley, Lost's unlucky lottery winner.

"That's the figure the state expects and I haven't heard anything different," Cash says.

Cash has to submit his legal budget to the state October 1, 2009, but so far he's about $100 million short.

For years, the district has been funded by the county, local sales tax, and the city. But last year, the city cut the $66 million slated to go to the district, leaving the school system with a funding nightmare on its hands.

Under the "maintenance of effort" clause, the school system must be locally funded at the same level as the previous year. The cut sparked a lawsuit — still unresolved — about who exactly should make up the shortfall. The city argues that the money should come from the required local funder, the county.

But right now, Cash is looking for a solution to next year. The school system expects to be out of money August 1st.

"What can we do while we solve all the arguments? And there's a lot of arguments out there. If it's the city, the county, it doesn't matter to me," Cash says. "We just need this amount."

Last November, the idea of giving both the city and county school systems taxing authority began to be discussed. Cash says the idea has gotten bogged down around the tax rate but, along with additional funding from the county, he sees district taxing authority as a possible long-term solution.

"I'm for both, as long as they make MCS whole, whichever comes first," he says.

In addition to his reform agenda, which I wrote about this week, Cash is also looking at places he can either save or earn money. He's re-examining transportation routes and how much square footage district custodians clean (a figure he says is below industry standards) and how many children buy breakfast and lunch. The district also has new software for contract and procurement services that Cash says will save several million dollars.

"No matter which way we cut this, I can't get to $100 million. I feel fairly confident I can get to $20 million," Cash says. Even if they cut all the administration positions — from superintendent down — it would save $17 million.

"It's like a big onion," Cash says, " You just keep peeling it ... it makes me cry, too."

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