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Herenton Says Fiscal Train Wreck With Schools Could Have Been Avoided

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(Memphis) Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton calls a massive budget shortfall related to the city and county school merger a mess and one he says he warned it would happen.

"It's a train wreck, absolutely. If you recall when I was mayor, I warned the city council not to remove funding from the Memphis City Schools," Herenton said.

The budget shortfalls are estimated at anywhere from $90 million to $180 million.

Herenton was the city schools superintendent before he was elected mayor in 1991.

He's now president and CEO of the W.E.B. DuBois Consortium of Charter Schools.

"Alex, we should have combined these school systems 25 years ago. If you can recall, in 1992 I called for a consolidation of government, law enforcement, and schools. We have wasted over several billion dollars," Herenton said.

Current city and county leaders recently told News Channel 3 the new school system is going to have to make some major cuts, including the closing of up to 20 schools, possibly no salary increases for county employees and there will be some kind of tax increase.

Mike Ritz is a Shelby County Commissioner, "The county commission is still going to have the fund schools. We're probably going to raise the property tax to fund $50 to $60 million."

Mark Luttrell is Shelby County Mayor, "At that time we can go back to the public and say this is what our deficiency is and this is how we fill that gap. We can do it with property taxes, a sales tax on with a wheel tax."

But most agree to pay for schools and keep them on track, it will be expensive and maybe even painful.

"You are going to see some draconian fiscal cutbacks that will affect the quality of education that our children receive, you will see massive layoffs. You will see a diminution of services and programs like you've never seen  before in the history of Memphis," Herenton said.