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VOL. 127 | NO. 57 | Thursday, March 22, 2012

Election Commission Says No To Municipal Schools Referenda

By Bill Dries

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The Shelby County Election Commission says requests to put referenda on the ballot May 10 to create municipal school districts are “procedurally defective.”

The unanimous voice vote by the commission Wednesday, March 21, sets the stage for a possible legal challenge of the decision by suburban leaders in Chancery Court.

The commission acted on the advice of its attorneys who based their advice on Tuesday’s legal opinion by the Tennessee Attorney General on the issue.

Attorney General Bob Cooper wrote that any referendum to form a municipal school district cannot be held before the merger of Shelby County’s two public school systems at the start of the 2013-2014 school year.

Based on that and conversations he had during the day Wednesday with state Elections Coordinator Mark Goins, attorney John Ryder advised the commission that the referenda requests were “procedurally defective.”

“According to the attorney general, those requests cannot be made until the transfer of administration of the schools is complete. That would be a procedural requirement,” Ryder said. “Based on what we are being told by the (state elections) coordinator and by the Attorney General, we would conclude that the request did not meet all the procedural requirements to place it on the ballot.”

Suburban leaders were already on a tight timeline in their effort to move toward municipal school districts. They wanted May 10 referenda on the general question of forming municipal school districts to be able to hold elections for school boards to govern the school districts on the November ballot. That was to meet a goal of each municipal school district hiring its superintendent by the start of 2013.

The election commission decision was a unanimous voice vote with no debate. It puts the onus on the suburban leaders to take a specific challenge of the decision to court and make their case there for May 10 elections.

A Chancery Court challenge would take time even without an appeal.

Meanwhile, the countywide school board meets in special session Thursday evening to continue a discussion that began at Tuesday’s board meeting about setting terms for the transfer of school buildings to municipal school districts.

The board could vote on setting a policy or simply continue the discussion.

The meeting will follow a meeting at the Memphis City Schools Teaching & Learning Academy, 2485 Union Ave. of the schools consolidation planning commission. Both meetings will be at the same location with the planning commission meeting starting at 4:30 p.m.

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