The Tennessee State Senate will vote Monday, April 30, on the bill that would permit suburban towns and cities in Shelby County to hold referendums this year on forming their own municipal school districts.
The amended bill permitting suburban leaders to hold the referendums before the August 2013 merger of Shelby County’s two public school systems was approved Friday, April 27, by the Tennessee House.
Without the change in state law, the suburban leaders would have to wait until the merger date to begin any moves toward separate public school systems from the consolidated school system.
The final version of the bill that cleared the House applies only to Shelby County because it is drafted to apply only in counties that have a schools consolidation transition planning commission in place and working. The planning commission is drafting the blueprint for the consolidated school system.
The bill in its final form also specifies that municipal school districts could not start classes before the merged school system starts its school year, but could start in the same time frame between Aug. 1 and Labor Day.
Memphis Democrats briefly attempted a filibuster with a number of questions about the amendment to the bill and its journey through a conference committee. But none voiced outright opposition to the legislation even though they voted against it.
At one point, they even questioned time limits set just before Memphis Democrat Lois DeBerry called for the question, ending the attempt.
“If the purpose of the consolidation vote or the referendum when it was passéd in Memphis was to create a unified school system, then we are now back to where we were to begin with?” asked Memphis Democrat Johnnie Turner. “Memphis (schools) would just be called Shelby County (schools)?”
“I don’t know if that’s correct or not,” said Collierville Republican Curry Todd, the sponsor of the final amendment.
Memphis Democrat Joe Towns questioned whether it was proper to attach the referendums provision to a bill about school bullying.
“I’m not comfortable,” he said. “It’s almost like a bait and switch. … It should have been up front where we could actually understand it. I need some comfort about what we’re doing.”
“I’m sorry you don’t,” Todd replied.
“Well I don’t and I want to get it,” Towns answered.
“I can’t make you get it,” Todd said.
Towns requested a delay in the vote until Monday. Todd denied the request and Towns said he would move ahead with more questions about procedures.
“You’re not going to be comfortable if we debate it for ten hours,” Todd said.
“Well, you’re not a psychic,” Towns shot back.
The Senate had already approved an earlier version of the legislation that included allowing the referendums this year. The full Senate will take up the bill on what is expected to be the final day of the legislative session.