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VOL. 127 | NO. 28 | Friday, February 10, 2012

Commission Examines Transfer of Schools

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioners take a second try Friday, Feb. 10, at some proposed rules for the transfer of school buildings to municipal school districts.

Shelby County Commissioners will meet Friday to vote on the transfer of school buildings. Commissioner James Harvey, left, missed Monday’s vote where the resolution failed and commission Chairman Sidney Chism, right, called the special meeting.
(Daily News Photo/Lance Murphey)

The commission meets in special session at 2 p.m. at the Vasco Smith Administration Building, 160 N. Main St.

On the agenda is a proposal by commissioner Walter Bailey that appears to be different than the one the commission voted down at its regular Monday meeting.

The new resolution would involve the commission in the transfer of school buildings along with the countywide school board just as the first one did.

But the notice of the special meeting describes the new resolution as “allocating education reserve funds and recognizing the bondholders as third party beneficiaries of such agreement.”

The earlier resolution outlined three options for the transfer of school buildings by the countywide school board. The first was to sell them at fair market value. The second was a “fair value” transfer, which might be a negotiated sale or lease at something less than fair market value. The third option is turning over the schools possibly at no cost but there could be “no adverse impact” on county debt and no additional county debt could be created as a result of the transfer.

That resolution failed on a 6-6 vote when commissioner James Harvey, the seventh vote in favor of the resolution, left the commission meeting early.

Opponents of the resolution question why the County Commission should be involved in the transfer of school property that would first have to be declared surplus by the school board under state law.

Bailey and other proponents of the resolution argue the commission’s role is one of oversight on the county’s debt since general obligation bonds are approved by the commission. Most of the existing county debt is from schools construction.

The commission considers the resolution about a year after it sought to appoint a new countywide school board prior to the consolidation of the existing Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools boards.

The county school board filed suit in federal court as a reaction to the attempt, and Memphis Federal Court Judge Hardy Mays later ruled the commission could appoint seven board members and that the school systems would be consolidated in the 2013-2014 school year.

After the ruling, all sides in the lawsuit agreed to a settlement that set other terms for the merger of the school systems. But it didn’t cover the possibility of municipal school districts several suburban towns and cities are considering forming and how they would impact the schools system merger.

Mays didn’t rule on the part of the state law governing the schools merger that included the possibility of municipal school districts in the suburbs because he said it wasn’t something that had been acted on at the time.

Later this month, the first of the suburban board of aldermen are scheduled to vote on putting a referendum to voters in May that would authorize a half-cent local sales tax increase to fund a municipal school district.

Proposals in the Tennessee Legislature to require the transfer of schools to municipal school districts at no cost are pending but action on them has been postponed.

Countywide school board members scheduled a special meeting Tuesday afternoon on the issue but cancelled it because they wouldn’t have had a quorum for the meeting.

Meanwhile, the municipal mayors are scheduled to meet Thursday, Feb. 16, with members of the schools consolidation transition planning commission to talk about how the two movements affect each other.

The planning commission is drafting the blueprint for the merged school system.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell brokered the meeting, expressing concern about the merger planning continuing without addressing the municipal school district plans.

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