VOL. 127 | NO. 132 | Monday, July 09, 2012
Schools Consolidation Foes Meet in Court
By Bill Dries
When Memphis Federal Court Judge Hardy Mays convenes a status conference Monday, July 9, in the schools consolidation case, attorneys for at least three of the suburban towns and cities trying to form municipal school districts will be there.
Leaders in Germantown, Bartlett and Collierville decided over the weekend to hire legal counsel and are seeking to intervene in the case filed one year and five months ago.
Their attorneys will ask Mays to make the municipalities part of a lawsuit with an already long list of parties because the issue to be decided by Mays involves them directly.
The issue in what began as a lawsuit over the process for the consolidation of Shelby County's two public school systems has now shifted to the possibility of the suburban towns and cities forming their own separate municipal school districts.
The status conference comes just about a month short of one year from Mays’ ruling in the lawsuit.
That was followed by a settlement among the parties of the points not covered in his ruling. Both set the ground rules for the schools consolidation set to take place in August 2013.
But neither addressed the formation of separate municipal school districts in the suburbs – the other part of state laws on such a schools merger.
All sides return to the courtroom just days before early voting begins Friday on a ballot that includes referendums in all six suburban cities on forming municipal school districts.
At the late afternoon status conference, Mays will talk with the parties about the June filing of a third-party motion by Shelby County Commissioners. It seeks to stop the set of suburban referendums.
The commission targets the legislation that was passed permitting the formation of such school districts and later permitting the move to formation to begin with referendums before the August 2013 effective date of the schools merger. Their motion contends the laws violate the Tennessee Constitution sections that distinguish between general law and private acts.
The commission also contends the state laws violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution because part of the intent was to create racially segregated schools.
Suburban leaders have vigorously denied any racial intent in the move to suburban school districts.
The motion is filed against the state of Tennessee, which was dismissed from the original lawsuit before the settlement was reached among all of the other parties.
Mays decided Thursday that he will permit the third-party motion to be heard agreeing that the issue is now ripe for a ruling.
The status conference could give observers a better idea if Mays will consider some kind of action before the election day or the start of early voting.
Absentee ballots have already been mailed to voters by the Shelby County Election Commission.
The commission’s motion asks Mays to either call off the referendums, which are now on the ballot with other electoral contests, or to delay the certification of the votes only on those ballot questions until he decides the legal question.
The second option is similar to one granted by federal Judge Thomas Anderson in the lawsuit over the 2010 referendums on the proposed consolidation of the city of Memphis and Shelby County governments.
Anderson delayed certification of the results from the dual referendums – one in the city and one in the county outside the city – in which the consolidation proposal failed. Anderson later permitted the vote totals to be certified as the still-pending lawsuit moved into other legal areas.