Legislature Sends Municipal Schools Bill To Haslam

By Bill Dries

The Tennessee House and Senate sent a bill permitting municipal school districts in 29 cities including the six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County to Gov. Bill Haslam Monday, April 15, for his signature.

The legislation was approved 70-24 in the House before winning approval in the Senate on a 24-5 vote.

The legislation lifts the 1998 ban imposed by the legislature on the creation of special school districts including municipal school districts. The ban is lifted statewide.

Five of the six suburban mayors were in the House gallery in Nashville as the legislation passed.

The new law would start over a process all six towns and cities undertook in 2012, which included referendums in each to approve the formation of a municipal school district and a sales tax hike to provide the state required minimum amount of funding for such a school district.

The sales tax hikes approved by voters in each of the towns and cities remain in place despite the Memphis federal court ruling that voided the referendum results on the question of forming municipal school districts.

U.S. District Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays ruled the results on that ballot question were void because the 2012 state law allowing for municipal school districts with such a referendum violated the Tennessee Constitution because it only applied to Shelby County.

That prompted the new bill that passed Monday, which is applicable statewide.

The first step once the bill becomes law would be for the boards of aldermen in each of the six suburban towns and cities to pass resolutions seeking a special election with a referendum question on the ballot to form a municipal school district. If that is approved by voters, voters in those towns and cities would then hold school board elections, just as they did in 2012.

Suburban leaders have said previously that their goal is to have municipal school districts open and ready for students on the 2014-2015 school year with students in those towns and cities being part of the consolidated Shelby County Schools district for the 2013-2014 school year, the first school year of the merger.