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VOL. 128 | NO. 65 | Wednesday, April 3, 2013

School Board Restructure Next for Federal Court

By Bill Dries

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All sides in the federal lawsuit over the schools merger will be getting together soon to talk about the Shelby County Commission’s plan to restructure the countywide school board.

A trio of court filings before and after the Easter weekend set the stage for a decision to come by Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee on the commission’s plan to appoint six new school board members to take office Sept. 1.

That is when the school board is scheduled to go from its current 23 members to seven members. The six appointees would join the seven board members elected in 2012.

The 13-district restructuring was permitted by Mays in a 2011 consent decree agreed to by all sides in the case.

A majority of commissioners initially backed it as a way of using the same set of district lines for the County Commission and the school board. But the district lines approved last month by the commission differ from the district lines the commission will use in the 2014 county elections.

The difference is so no two incumbent school board members are in the same district. That would shorten someone’s elected term of office, which might lead to even more litigation.

As the sides prepare to meet, two of the parties want Mays to delay the restructuring until county voters pick the six new members in the August 2014 county general elections.

Countywide school board members approved a resolution last month asking Mays to delay the move to a 13-member board until the county general elections.

Suburban leaders filed their response Friday, including a copy of the countywide school board’s resolution.

“The municipalities support the resolution of the board of education for the reasons stated therein and oppose the county commission’s resolution on the same grounds,” reads the motion by attorney Tom Cates.

The suburban response beat the school board’s response, which was filed Monday.

School board attorney Valerie Speakman wrote that “none of the parties could have know the full extent to which having a large school board could have slowed the decision making regarding issues critical to the transfer of administration.”

She also argues that the 23-member school board established in the 2011 consent decree agreed to by all sides in the lawsuit and approved by Mays “has affected the board’s ability to make decisions expeditiously.”

The commission’s attorneys sent formal notice of the commission plan to the court Thursday, March 28.

Meanwhile, Shelby County Commissioners gave final approval Monday, April 1, to an exemption to the county government residency requirement for Memphis City Schools teachers and other school system employees.

It grandfathers in current MCS employees who don’t live in Shelby County. But it leaves intact the requirement that all new hires after the schools merger takes effect must live within Shelby County. Memphis City Schools have no residency requirement.

The commission also voted down on third and final reading an August ballot question that would have put to voters doing away with the residency requirement in the county charter.

Commissioner Terry Roland, the sponsor of the measure, said he intends to seek state legislation that would abolish the residency requirement included in the county’s 1986 home rule charter.

“You’re telling the people that you don’t trust them,” Roland said. “It ain’t going to be hard to get this reversed up in Nashville.”

Commissioner Walter Bailey countered that he didn’t believe there was a public clamor to vote on the county’s residency requirement.

“These are the desires of a handful of commissioners,” he said as he added out-of-state county employees want to “receive the benefits, without the deterrent.”

“They don’t pay taxes. They don’t contribute to the welfare of this county,” Bailey said.

In other action, commissioners voted down a resolution to transfer another $103,889 from its contingency fund to pay legal fees in the federal schools lawsuit.

The resolution fell one vote short of the seven necessary to pass because Bailey, the seventh vote in favor, was out of the room at the time.

Commissioner Henri Brooks abstained just minutes after she complained that commission Chairman Mike Ritz had “disrespected” her during the residency debate by asking her if she was seeking to speak again.

Reconsideration of the item was blocked under commission rules when there was an objection to Commissioner Steve Mulroy’s move to change his vote in order to move for reconsideration.

The commission could reconsider the item when minutes from the meeting are voted on at the April 15 commission meeting.

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