Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has said he would have preferred some other outcome. But on his desk this week awaiting his decision is the bill that sets the stage for referendums this year in Shelby County’s suburbs on forming municipal school districts.
The legislation won final approval Monday, April 30, by the Tennessee state Senate. The state House approved the bill the week before.
Haslam’s choices are to sign the bill into law, let the bill become law without his signature or veto the bill. The closest Haslam has come to a veto since taking office as governor in January 2011 was his decision last month to let the bill setting more specific guidelines on teaching evolution and other scientific theories become law without his signature.
The provision permitting the referendums this year is an amendment added to a 2011 bill on school bullying.
The provision on the referendums applies only to Shelby County or any county that has a schools consolidation transition planning commission working on a merger of public school systems as Shelby County currently does.
Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle of Memphis said the amendment permitting the suburban votes is part of “a growing tide of apartheid in Shelby County.”
“One day this is going to come back to haunt you,” he warned legislators. “I hope it doesn’t happen on your watch. It would only be fair if it did. This is about folks saying, ‘No, we want to be different. We don’t want to be with you.’”
Senate Republican leader Mark Norris of Collierville, the sponsor of the amendment, said he would not dignify Kyle’s remarks with a comment.
“We seek a smooth transition,” Norris added. “We seek the opportunity for the transition planning commission … to think outside the box and to do something better for the children in the schools in Shelby County than what has been done heretofore, to embrace the concept of a unified system, not just a merged system.”
The planning commission is drafting the blueprint of a single Shelby County public schools system to begin when the county’s two public school systems are merged at the start of the 2013-2014 school year.
Some on the planning commission have argued the creation of municipal school districts with their own elected school boards are not a part of the unified school system they are creating.
Memphis Democrat Beverly Marrero echoed the sentiment.
“We had hoped that we would have the opportunity to wait until (the transition planning commission) had made its opinions known,” she said during Monday’s brief floor debate. “Most people in Shelby County sincerely believe that our whole city and county will do better if we work together rather than split up and have a fragmented Memphis and Shelby County.”
Suburban leaders have argued that while the planning commission has offered some paths to autonomy for schools, they want school systems that would have their own elected school boards and contract for services and students with the unified school system.