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School Board Doesn’t Renew Memphis Superintendent’s Contract

Superintendent of Memphis City Schools Kriner Cash's contract expires in 2013. The Memphis and Shelby County school board voted not to renew that contract last night. The vote was 14-8. A similar motion not to renew the contract of Shelby County Schools Superintendent John Aitken, which expires in 2015, did not pass. That vote was 8-14.

But the same board members who voted yes for one superintendent did not necessarily vote no for the other, “There are a lot of motives. There are a lot of different opinions,” said Senior Reporter for the Memphis Daily News Bill Dries. “I think that goes back to the board really figuring out where it is on this.”

Next week the board will take up the issue of whether or not they will initiate a search for a new superintendent of the merged district.

“I know Dr. Cash and I know Mr. Aitken,” said board member Sara Lewis, “but unless I walk through that door to go to that parking lot, I don’t know what the heck is out there.”

But there are also members of the board who see problems with a search. Board member Jeffrey Warren presented a list of cons for a search, “Are we delusional?” Warren asked. “The time is short. We don’t have time to do an adequate search.”

An issue the board will need to decide on, if they conduct a search is—will they let either of the current superintendents apply?

“If we do a national search, or a search of any kind, it is inhumane to tell these two gentlemen they may apply,” said board member Betty Mallott, “when we clearly have no intention of hiring either one of them.”

The school board is large. It has 23 members in total—seven from the former Shelby County Schools board, nine from the former Memphis City Schools board, and seven appointed by the county commission with no school board experience whatsoever.

“The board began its life last October—23 members—and a real clash of meeting cultures,” said Dries, “and it really took them some time to work out a smooth, working atmosphere for their meetings.”

Tuesday night’s meeting took five hours. Board members disagreed about issues large and small. They even bickered about the definition of a point of order versus a point of information and other basic meeting procedures.

“All of the old dysfunction that had been there in the beginning, this past October, was present once again,” Dries said.

The board needs a superintendent well before the district opens in August of 2013, but it remains to be seen if they can interview, agree on, and hire one in that time frame.

Meanwhile Cash may sue the board. He left the meeting last night saying he was going to talk to his lawyer.


I love living in Memphis, but I'm not from the city. I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I spent many hours at a highly tender age listening to NPR as my parents crisscrossed that city in their car, running errands. I don't amuse myself by musing about the purity of destiny, but I have seriously wondered how different my life would be if my parents preferred classic rock instead of Car Talk.