Watershed Day

Historic election paves way for six new municipal school districts

By Bill Dries

The unofficial vote totals are in from Thursday’s county general and state and federal primary elections in Shelby County, but no one involved believed the last cartridge read at the Shelby County Election Commission would be the last word on the results.

Voters in Collierville overwhelmingly approved a municipal school district last week, as did voters in the other five suburban towns and cities in Shelby County considering the issue. 

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Even with that certainty, there were some surprises

Voters in each of the six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County approved establishing municipal school districts in the unofficial results of the Thursday, Aug. 2, county general and state and federal primary elections.

But voters in only five of the six towns and cities approved a half-cent sales tax hike to provide the minimum local funding required for the school districts by state law.

In the closest race of the night, voters in Millington voted down the half-cent sales tax hike by three votes.

The defeat means Millington’s elected leaders have a decision to make that could involve a property tax hike to raise what the sales tax hike that failed would have raised.

With all five Millington precincts reporting, the unofficial results on the sales tax hike ballot question were:

  • No: 1,033, or 50.07 percent
  • Yes: 1,030, or 49.93 percent

In Millington, the formation of a school district was approved with 64.4 percent of the vote. The margin of victory in Millington for the school district question was the smallest of any of the six suburban towns and cities.

The three-vote margin in the sales tax question could be challenged in Chancery Court under state laws that require parties contesting elections to not only prove voting irregularities but prove there were enough to change the outcome of the race.

State officials are already investigating problems during the early voting period in which more than 1,000 voters got ballots that had the wrong state legislative and Congressional primary district races. The problems also included suburban voters who got ballots in split precincts that didn’t include the municipal schools district questions.

To add even more uncertainty, Memphis Federal Court Judge Hardy Mays begins holding hearings next month in the court challenge to the constitutionality of the state law that permits and sets conditions for the formation of the municipal school districts.

In each of the five municipalities where both ballot questions were approved, a larger percentage voted for the formation of the school district than voted for the sales tax hike.

Voters in six suburban towns and cities approved municipal school districts. But only five approved the sales tax increase to fund the schools.

The highest percentages on both questions were in Collierville where 77.53 percent of the early voters chose yes on the tax hike and 87.48 percent voted yes on forming the school district.

The other close race of the night was in one of the seven district races for the countywide school board.

Kevin Woods, appointed to the District 4 seat last year by the Shelby County Commission, beat Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr., one of nine members of the old Memphis City Schools board with seats on the transition countywide school board through August 2013, by 108 votes.

With all 36 precincts reporting, the unofficial results show:

  • Woods 6,531, or 50.2 percent
  • Whalum 6,423, or 49.55 percent

Meanwhile another appointed school board member, Chris Caldwell, defeated a member of the old MCS board, Freda Williams, Thursday by a wider margin.

The District 1 contest also featured Rev. Noel Hutchinson, and Caldwell and Williams mounted aggressive campaigns that relied heavily on direct mail appeals as well as recorded calls from them and others endorsing them.

Williams as well as Whalum were both supported by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen.

With all 42 precincts reporting the unofficial results show:

  • Caldwell: 7,045, or 47.9 percent
  • Williams: 6,035, or 41.1 percent
  • Hutchinson: 1,545, or 10.5 percent

Two members of the old Shelby County Schools board won their bids to hold the seats that will remain after the two old school board positions on the board are phased out. Former Shelby County Schools board chairman David Pickler defeated Kim Wirth, meaning the Shelby County Commission will appoint someone to fill Pickler’s old position for the last year of the combined 23-member school board.

And David Reaves of the old SCS board beat Raphael McInnis, who was a County Commission appointee last year to one of the seven seats that will become the full countywide school board after the consolidation of Shelby County’s two public school systems in August 2013.

Reaves victory also means another appointment by the Shelby County Commission to fill the school board seat he is leaving for another.

The commission retained its 7-6 partisan split in Thursday’s election results as Republican Steve Basar claimed the District 1 Position 3 seat vacated by Mike Carpenter that Brent Taylor was appointed to on an interim basis.

In the 9th Congressional District Democratic primary, Cohen crushed countywide school board member Tomeka Hart in the all-Shelby County predominantly Democratic district by an even wider margin than his 83 percent victory two years ago over former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.

Cohen will face Republican nominee and former County Commissioner George Flinn who won the GOP primary by beating Charlotte Bergman, who was Cohen’s general election challenger two years ago.