Mays Weighs School Board Changes

By Bill Dries

Memphis Federal Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays remembers the part of the 2011 consent decree in the schools merger case that gives the Shelby County Commission the option of increasing the size of the countywide school board to up to 13 members after Sept. 1.

But he told attorneys for all sides Tuesday, April 16, that the consent decree doesn’t specify whether the commission will do that through appointing six people until county elections can be held in the summer of 2014 or whether the six new members would wait on the 2014 elections.

Attorneys for the Shelby County Commission argued at the hearing in the U.S. Western District of Tennessee that Mays should accept the commission’s resolution that would take the school board to 13 members effective Sept. 1 when the school board had been scheduled to go from 23 members to seven members.

That resolution includes giving the commission the power to appoint six new board members immediately who would join the board on Sept. 1. The commission also approved a set of new district lines for the entire school board that is also before Mays.

Mays made no decision at Tuesday’s hearing.

Attorneys for the school board and suburban leaders ultimately said they had no problem with the commission expanding the school board. But they both oppose the commission making those appointments. Their position is Mays should approve the expansion but let voters fill the six new seats in the August 2014 county general elections.

But school board attorney Valerie Speakman and suburban attorney Tom Cates argued that a seven-member board would allow the school board to move more quickly in a merger scenario that has been plagued by the limitations of a 23-member school board.

Attorney Leo Bearman, representing the county commission, argued a 13-member board is more representative and more responsive to citizens.

Mays wants to hear more about the logistics and cost of possibly holding special elections for either every seat on a restructured countywide school board or for the six new positions.

He gave all sides until Friday April 26 to submit positions on those and other issues. He set the next hearing in the matter for April 30.