Schools Dispute About To Move Into Court

By Bill Dries

The move to court has begun in the ongoing standoff between Shelby County’s two public school systems.

Attorneys for the group “Citizens for Better Education” were preparing a filing Friday afternoon to be filed in Chancery Court by the end of the business day.

The lawsuit seeks to force the Shelby County Election Commission to set a date for a Memphis referendum on a Memphis City Schools system charter surrender.

The group of about 20 civic leaders who favor the charter surrender kicked off their political campaign Friday morning. During the gathering, an attorney came with a prepared lawsuit ready to be filed. The attorney was an assistant county attorney acting on his own, according to Deidre Malone, among the organizers of Citizens for Better Education.

To avoid any conflict, the group began looking for other attorneys to file the action.

“It was a problem,” Malone said. “Right now we are looking at a couple of other people because it’s ready to be filed.”

The court action will challenge this week’s legal opinion from Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark Goins.

Goins said the Memphis City Council must give its approval before the charter surrender referendum election date can be set. Because of the legal opinion, the election commission took no action on setting an election date.

The court fight to come is likely to involve a 2003 Tennessee Attorney General’s opinion that contradicts the Goins opinion. The AG’s opinion holds no council approval is needed. City Council attorney Allan Wade also issued a legal opinion reacting to the Goins opinion calling it “erroneous.”

“It is basically going to say that the state election coordinator was wrong,” Malone said of the court action. “We’re asking the Shelby County Election Commission to move forward in setting a date.”

Meanwhile, city council member Shea Flinn took his pursuit of an alternate route to the ballot to the election commission. He turned in a petition Friday afternoon with more than 70 signatures seeking to put the charter surrender item on the ballot for Memphis voters.