School Board Rejects Building Transfer Rules

By Bill Dries

Countywide school board members rejected Thursday, March 22, an agreement with county government on the possible transfer of school buildings to municipal school districts that would check possible legislation in Nashville on the same general subject.

The resolution, approved by the Shelby County Commission in February, would require the school board to declare any school building to be sold or leased to be surplus and get “reasonable consideration” for its sale or lease as well as make a specific finding that the transfer would “not cause the county to incur additional school debt.”

The resolution was defeated on a 9-9 tie vote at a special meeting of the board, the second this week. The same resolution was discussed at the board’s regular Tuesday evening meeting but any action was delayed until the Thursday meeting.

The resolution was an attempt to block movement of a proposal in the Tennessee legislature to require that school building be given to a municipal school district at no cost. It would have done that by making current and/or future holders of the general obligation bonds used for school construction third party beneficiaries.

The legislature could not pass a law impeding those contract rights.

The legislation is not pending in Nashville. But those backing the resolution feared the still pending bill to lift the statewide moratorium on the creation of municipal school districts could be amended next week. And that amendment, they feared, could include a provision providing for the transfer of school buildings at no cost.

But other school board members countered that they wanted a chance to talk with suburban leaders pushing for municipal school districts. Some also had concerns about involving Shelby County government in such a transfer under any terms.

Meanwhile, members of the schools consolidation planning commission made no decision Thursday on a call by planning commissioner and school board member David Pickler to push back the date of the school systems merger a year to the 2014-2015 school year.

Pickler was absent. Commission chairwoman Barbara Prescott said most on the body’s executive committee were opposed to any delay in the merger target date. Pickler could push for the full body to consider his proposal. Barring that Prescott said there might be some discussion but probably no vote by the commission on the matter.

The two developments capped a turbulent week in the local schools reformation saga.

Suburban leaders are weighing their legal options after a legal opinion Tuesday from Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper held that they could not start any efforts toward forming municipal school districts until the 2013 start of the schools merger. The legal opinion prompted the Shelby County Election Commission to bar a set of May 10 referenda several of the suburban towns and cities had requested on the question of forming municipal school districts.

The bill to lift the statewide moratorium on municipal school districts encountered opposition in a House education subcommittee in Nashville and was delayed a week by House sponsor Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga.