VOL. 127 | NO. 174 | Thursday, September 6, 2012
Municipal Schools Hearing Goes To Third Day
By Bill Dries
The Memphis federal court hearing over the state laws governing municipal school districts has become an argument about the school age population in Milan, Tenn. and surrounding Gibson County.
All sides in the lawsuit appeared to be close to ending their proof Tuesday, Sept. 5, when attorneys for the six suburban towns and cities called Carolyn Anderson of Nashville as a witness. Anderson is the GIS specialist for the Tennessee Legislature. She makes maps using computer programs that interpret data.
In this case, it was a map of the school age population in Gibson County that turned what was expected to be five minutes on the witness stand into an all afternoon affair that will continue on Sept. 20.
The U.S. Census data by census tract that Anderson used showed Milan already has enough school age population to meet the 1,500 student threshold to form a municipal school district. And the school age population for Milan would grow if Milan’s urban growth area is included.
Like Memphis City Schools, Milan schools are a special school district. Unlike Shelby County, Gibson County has no county school system.
Attorneys for the Shelby County suburbs argue Gibson County is a place where the state law on municipal school districts could apply.
The argument of the Shelby County Commission in the latest part of the federal court fight is that the state law on those districts was written so that it could only apply to Shelby County.
The difference is the key element in what U.S. District Court Judge Hardy Mays has been hearing proof on since Tuesday. He is specifically hearing evidence on whether the municipal schools district laws violate or comply with the Tennessee Constitution.
The county commission claims that the laws apply only to Shelby County but were passed as general laws when they should have been passed as a private act. Private acts require the approval of a local legislative body or passage in a local referendum.
Other claims of violations of the U.S. Constitution would be heard at a later date or not at all if Mays rules the state laws are void under the Tennessee Constitution.
Attorneys for the commission as well as the Memphis City Council objected to Anderson’s map saying she selectively used data and left out other data. Their objections continued through the afternoon to the point that Mays set another day of testimony in the trial for Sept. 20. And Mays set another deadline of Sept. 14 for depositions and briefs just on the issue of the information Anderson will probably continue to testify on Sept. 20. There is also the possibility the attorneys for the commission and the council could call their own expert witnesses to testify or take their depositions.
Anderson had also planned to testify on census maps she did of Carroll County. But in the dispute over her testimony about Gibson County, she never got that far.
Mays has already heard plenty of conflicting testimony from two expert witnesses about demographic data in Carroll County.
The expert witness for the suburban towns and cities testified several cities in Carroll County have projected school age populations that are large enough to become municipal school districts.
The expert witness for the county commission testified none of the cities in Carroll County come anywhere close to having enough of a school age population in the next 20 years to form municipal school districts.
The attorneys for the different sides also scrapped before Mays on the issue of whether the other side’s witness was an expert. Mays decided to classify one as an expert in regional economics and the other an expert in population growth.