VOL. 126 | NO. 93 | Thursday, May 12, 2011
Mays Hears First Arguments in Schools Consolidation Case
By Bill Dries
Federal Judge Hardy Mays heard arguments and testimony Thursday from all sides in the schools consolidation lawsuit.
Shelby County schools superintendent John Aitken and Shelby County Commissioners Walter Bailey and Mike Carpenter testified as part of tracing the chronology of what has and hasn’t happened in terms of moves toward schools consolidation in recent months. They also testified about the intentions behind their actions. Bailey and Carpenter were grilled about the reasoning behind the commission’s decision to appoint a 25-member countywide school board.
Those appointments are on hold until Mays rules on the request by five of the seven Shelby County school board members for an injunction to stop the appointment process.
Mays is also to rule on the constitutionality of the Norris-Todd state law passed earlier this year that establishes a longer time frame to August 2013 for consolidation of the two school systems. He will also rule on the constitutionality of the 1961 state law the city council and county commission have been relying on for the immediate consolidation of the two school systems and the appointment of a countywide school board.
Mays indicated at the beginning of Thursday’s hearing that he will not rule from the bench, meaning a written ruling will come at some later point.
The three issues he outlined are central to what happens next in the litigation.
Assistant City Attorney Regina Newman said in court that his decision on the matters could “at least allow parties to proceed to some additional settlement talks.”
Three rounds of settlement talks have failed so far, leading to this morning’s first hearing on the substantive issues in the case.
“I’m deciding how the statute works and that’s going to determine most of the other things,” Mays said.
The testimony from Aitken, Carpenter and Bailey touched on broader issues, including political motivations in the multi-sided dispute.
Mays allowed the points to be made and will also allow them to be made in oral arguments Tuesday afternoon. But he said his focus will remain on the specific questions of constitutionality.
At one point, Mays noted that the hearing is on baseball great Yogi Berra’s birthday and used a Berra quote to described the situation.
“We’re lost, but we’re making good time,” he said.