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VOL. 127 | NO. 60 | Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Suburbs Consider Legal Challenges In Schools Fight

By Bill Dries

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After a race to call special referendum elections in May, suburban leaders this week may be in a race to get to Chancery Court in a legal challenge of the Tennessee attorney general’s opinion that last week stopped the referenda move.


“We are moving toward, at least in Bartlett, some legal action,” Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald said Friday on the WKNO-TV program “Behind the Headlines.” “I’ve said all along we’re going to hit some bumps.”


The Bartlett Board of Mayor and Alderman will discuss the latest bump Tuesday, March 27, at its regular meeting.

McDonald said going to Chancery Court to put the question back on the ballot after the Shelby County Election Commission refused a first request to do so tightens an already tight timeline.

The suburban leaders had a goal of getting the municipal school district question decided by their respective sets of voters in May in order to move ahead with electing separate school boards for each district on the November ballot and having those elected boards hire superintendents by January.

McDonald said one alternative could be school board elections in December or January if the suburban leaders go to court and win but win too late to hold May referenda.

McDonald and other suburban mayors want school districts that would be governed by school boards elected within their towns and cities. That is their top priority.

Meanwhile, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. is talking of life after the schools merger for Memphis government.

Wharton told a group of 200 at Saturday’s annual meeting of the Stand For Children chapter that city government will be involved in education but not necessarily the schools once the city’s requirement to fund Memphis City Schools goes away with the merger.

Wharton believes that requirement for “maintenance of effort” to the tune of $70 million ends with the 2013-2014 school year, the first year of the merger.

Others on the countywide school board and the schools consolidation planning commission aren’t so sure. As recently as last week, they were seeking advice from attorneys on whether the city’s funding commitment by state law ends in August 2013 or whether it continues beyond that for a total of three years.

Wharton is mapping out a city role that would be outside the school system, probably in preschool preparation of children and programs outside school hours including assisting parents and guardians to help promote a culture of learning in the home.

“Forget about the legal mandates, we are parents of those children 24/7, 365 days a year. Thus the distinction between education and schooling. There is a difference,” Wharton said. “That is what we intend to pursue in the city of Memphis – not what is dictated by No Child Left Behind, not what is dictated by the state of Tennessee, but what is dictated morally by what we know as parents and grandparents our children in this city (need).”

That could include literacy tutoring for adults or something as simple as providing a list of programs including Cub Scout troops and other youth programs in the goody bags hospitals send parents home with after a baby is born.

“We will be able to say, ‘We don’t care what they said in Nashville. We don’t care what they said in Washington. We know that our children need this.’ Memphis is a different place. … What works in Brooklyn won’t work in Memphis,” Wharton said.

He also compared the end of city government’s funding of a public school system to a father he saw in line at Juvenile Court recently, overjoyed because he was making his last child support payment.

“Once our legal responsibility is gone, we’re not going to shout,” Wharton said. “If we shout, it will be because we are shouting for joy because we know we have the freedom to do what we know our children need. We now have the freedom to do whatever it takes for our children.”

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