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VOL. 128 | NO. 124 | Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Early Voting Opens for Municipal Schools

By Bill Dries

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Early voting in advance of the July 16 special elections on forming suburban school districts opens Wednesday, June 26, at the Shelby County Election Commission offices Downtown at 157 Poplar Ave.

Early voting begins Downtown Wednesday, June 26, on the referendums to create suburban school districts. Voting locations in three of the six towns open Saturday.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

Each of the six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County have ballot questions seeking to create municipal school districts separate from the consolidated school system that begins operation formally July 1. Voters from any of the suburban towns and cities can vote Downtown.

Meanwhile, early voting locations in Arlington, Lakeland and Millington open Saturday at 10 a.m. and close for the day at 4 p.m. And early voting locations in Bartlett, Collierville and Germantown open July 6.

As is the case with the Downtown location, voters from any of the six towns can vote at any of the locations even though the referendums are separate.

A Bartlett schools rally at the Bartlett early voting site, Bethel Church, last week drew 150 people including countywide school board members Kenneth Whalum Jr. and David Reaves.

“I am consistent. I’ve been consistent from day one in saying I believe you should have the right to your own educational self determination,” Whalum said. “You ought to be so angry that you did not get a voice in all of this mess from the beginning. … You can do this. But while you are doing it, please remember that all of the children all over the county belong to all of us.”

Reaves, who lives in Bartlett and represents the area and several other suburban towns, has grown increasingly frustrated over the course of the schools merger as the Aug. 5 start of the school year nears.

“We’ve cut quality assistant principals. We’ve cut quality teachers. We’ve cut guidance counselors,” Reaves said “The central office in the Shelby County Schools is ginormous. Even though we got 26 percent of it, it’s still top loaded.”

He called for the creation of a Bartlett school system that is “forward thinking, technology based, student focused, parent led and servant minded.”

“Our community is not the same as it was 20 years ago. It’s made up of all kinds, all colors, all nationalities,” Reaves said. “And that’s something we need to get a grip on.”

Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald said he is most concerned that voters in Bartlett won’t return to the polls and repeat what they did last August when the same question was on the ballot.

“I said early on this is a sword worth dying on. I’m still alive, I haven’t died yet,” McDonald said. “But I feel pierced a little bit. But we still have a long way to go. ... We’ve got to do it again.”

Early voting across Shelby County in the 2012 municipal schools referendums topped 62,000. But turnout comparisons will be difficult at best because the Aug. 2 ballot featured a slate of Democratic and Republican primary elections in the city of Memphis as well as the county outside the city.

The suburban school district ballot questions are the only items on the ballot in just the six towns and cities this time around. A total of 40 precincts are involved.

Just more than 12,000 people voted in the 2012 referendum in Bartlett and the ballot question passed easily there and in the other five towns and cities.

The results were voided by U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays. He ruled the state law permitting the votes violated the Tennessee Constitution because they were based on a general law that applied only to Shelby County.

The Tennessee legislature passed a new law earlier this year that lifts the statewide ban on creating municipal school districts.

If the ballot questions are approved by voters, school board elections would follow in November in another special election with no other contests on the ballot.

McDonald and the other five suburban mayors have said their goal is to open their school districts in August 2014 and be a part of the consolidated school district for the school year that begins Aug. 5.

During that time, there is still the issue of under what terms the suburban school systems would use or own Shelby County Schools buildings within their borders.

“I am not afraid of the discussion about the buildings. I am not afraid of the discussion about the 14th Amendment,” McDonald said referring to a remaining claim in the federal court case alleging the suburban schools would racially resegregate public schools. “What I am afraid of is we give up. So, we stay the course. We are going to do what is right. The law says the school buildings are there in trust for the purpose of educating children and that is what I intend to do.”

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