VOL. 127 | NO. 85 | Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Tenn. Senate Approves Muni Schools Referendums
By Bill Dries
The Tennessee State Senate gave final approval Monday, April 30, to legislation that sets the stage for referendums this year in Shelby County’s suburbs on forming municipal school districts.
With Senate approval on a 22-9 vote, the bill that was approved by the State House last week goes to the desk of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.
The provision permitting the referendums this year is an amendment added to a 2011 bill dealing with school bullying.
Memphis Democrat Jim Kyle said the amendment permitting the suburban votes is part of “a rising tide of apartheid in Shelby County.”
“One day this is going to come back to haunt you,” he warned legislators. “I hope it doesn’t happen on your watch. It would only be fair if it did. This is about folks saying, ‘No, we want to be different. We don’t want to be with you.’”
Senate Republican leader Mark Norris of Collierville, the sponsor of the amendment, said he would not dignify Kyle’s remarks with a comment.
“We seek a smooth transition,” Norris added. “We seek the opportunity for the transition planning commission … the opportunity to think outside the box and to do something better for the children in the schools in Shelby County than what has been done heretofore, to embrace the concept of a unified system, not just a merged system.”
The planning commission is drafting the blueprint of a single Shelby County public schools system to begin when the county’s two public school systems are merged at the start of the 2013-2014 school year.
Some on the planning commission have argued the creation of municipal school districts with their own elected school boards are not a part of the unified school system they are creating.
Suburban leaders have argued that while the planning commission has offered some paths to autonomy for schools, they want school systems that would have their own elected school boards and contract for service and students with the unified school system.
If Haslam signs the bill into law or it becomes law without this signature, suburban towns and cities could move to put the question of a municipal school district and its funding with a half cent local option sales tax rate increase to voters on the Aug. 2 ballot or hold a special election at their own expense sooner than that.
The goal of those supporting the municipal school districts is to hold the referendums and with passage then hold elections for school boards of the various districts later this year, possibly on the November election ballot.