July 28th, 2011
On an elementary school playground or in council chambers, in a third grade classroom or during a school board meeting, the exchange is pretty much the same:
As published in The Daily News, July 29, 2011, and in The Memphis News, July 30-August 5, 2011
IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT THE CHILDREN. THEY’RE IN CHARGE
When I was about 8, Johnny Edgar swung upside down on our backyard chinning bar and, unbeknownst to him, 75¢ fell out of his pocket. A fortune. Found money.
He went home. I went to McLaurine’s Bakery – éclair, 8¢ – then to Normal Drug Store – root beer float, 10¢ – and then a one-horn-blast, two-brake-slam dash across Highland to the Dairy Queen - banana split, 50¢. After tax, a balance of 3¢. After three jawbreakers from the machine in front of Whitten Brothers Hardware, zero balance.
I had earned a stomachache with that investment that I was pretty sure would prove fatal so, with nothing to lose, I confessed to my mother. Actually, when you hurl right in front of your mother, the evidence is undeniable.
I was marched to Johnny’s house, apologized in front of his family, and gave him his 75¢ back out of Mom’s purse. I was sent to my room to, “Just wait until your father gets home.” When he did, the stomachache was replaced with one a bit south and to the rear.
Three years ago, the city council took $60 million, give or take a jawbreaker, of the schools’ lunch money. Then they gave all of us a great big banana split of a property tax cut and root beer float raises all over town.
We all got a great big stomachache from court battles, finger pointing, and enough negative national publicity to make the whole city hurl.
For a while now, I’ve wanted to say to the city council, “Just wait until your father gets home.”
A while ago, the courts told them to march right over to the Memphis Board of Education and give them their money back. They haven’t. Not the $60 million from three years ago, not all of what they owe for every year since.
And yet they have a third grade hissy fit, full of overacted righteous indignation, when they say, “trust us, we’ll pay,” and the school board doesn’t believe them.
I had to pay my mother back that 75¢ out of my allowance and I never had another banana split from the Dairy Queen.
Because of their childish gesture to avoid responsibility by simply ducking it, the city council has had to raise the property tax rate and cut the city payroll to just get back to where they were before they stuffed themselves with school money.
Some voices are blaming the school board for grandstanding; saying the $60 million is less than 10% of their annual budget. That 75¢ was less than 10% of Johnny’s annual allowance, too, but it was the taking of it that got me spanked, not the amount.
Paying it back is simply right. Painful. Sacrificial. And right.
This isn’t the school board’s fault. Any elementary teacher can see whose mess this is, and the council needs to clean it up so the rest of the kids can get on with school.
I’m a Memphian, and we need adult guidance.