VOL. 127 | NO. 126 | Thursday, June 28, 2012
School Board Moves Toward Superintendent Pick
By Bill Dries
At the start of another five-hour countywide school board meeting Tuesday, June 26, Jim Boyd of the schools consolidation planning commission set the stage for a busy night on several fronts.
“We are at the end,” he said of the planning commission’s job of drafting a blueprint for the schools merger to come. “But this is literally the beginning of the work.”
Hours earlier in Memphis federal court, attorneys for the Shelby County Commission filed a pair of legal motions that mark the beginning of a new round of complexity in an already complex chain of events that include but aren’t limited to the merger.
The bottom line of the motions is that they would call off the Aug. 2 referendums in all six Shelby County suburbs on forming municipal school districts.
Early voting in advance of the Aug. 2 election day begins July 13.
Meanwhile, candidates in the municipal school board elections that would follow in November in those towns and cities that approve the ballot questions are already pulling qualifying petitions from the Shelby County Election Commission.
Word of the legal motion reached the school board as it was immersed in the details of the merger blueprint.
“That kind of throws a log in my thought process about what I was prepared to vote for in this plan,” said school board member David Reaves of “the shifting political dynamics.” “It was just bad timing in my opinion,” he continued. “They just should have stayed out of it.”
The County Commission, in the motion to file a third-party complaint, also wants federal court Judge Hardy Mays to declare unconstitutional the state laws permitting a move to municipal school districts before the consolidation of Shelby County’s two public school systems in August 2013.
Attorneys for the commission filed the legal motion Tuesday, June 26, the day after a private attorney-client meeting with the commission.
The motion to file the third-party complaint was filed as part of the February 2011 lawsuit brought by the Shelby County Board of Education over schools consolidation. The case resulted in a ruling by Mays that consolidation was legal and so was the state law that set the process for consolidating the schools. A settlement among all parties in the case followed that set the terms of the transition including the formation of a 23-member transitional countywide school board.
But Mays never ruled on and the settlement never covered the question of municipal school districts. The formation of such school districts was established in the Norris-Todd law that Mays upheld. But Mays specifically said in his ruling that he was not ruling on the formation of municipal schools because none had been formed and there had been no move to form them at that point. The issue was not ripe.
A legal opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General’s office held the 2011 state law governing the schools merger did not permit any planning, including ballot questions, on the formation of municipal schools to begin until after the consolidation happened. The Legislature in this year’s session changed state law to permit the referendums before consolidation.
Mays will first consider whether to grant the motion to file the complaint. And if he grants the motion, he would then take up the request for “declaratory, preliminary and permanent injunctive relief” that would effectively stop all six suburban referendums.
The legal action claims the move violates two articles of the Tennessee Constitution and the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The Tennessee Constitution articles involved forbid passage of a general law that is aimed at a specific group of individuals and require a two-thirds vote of a local legislative body for the state Legislature to pass a private act that applies to a certain area of the state.
Meanwhile, the school board voted Tuesday to begin a “search” for selecting a superintendent for the merger and approved a resolution to set up a committee to define the process. Both actions came after much debate on the board, many expressions of frustration and more indications that the body is far from a consensus on how to pick a superintendent much less who they should pick.
The board still hasn’t settled the question of whether there will be a national or local search or ruled out making Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken the head of the merged school system at least through the first two years of the merger.
Aitken’s contract already runs through August 2015.
The board voted last week not to renew the contract of Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash, which runs up to the start of the merger in August 2013.