Mays: School Board Stays At Seven For A Year

By Bill Dries

The countywide school board will slim down to seven members effective Sept. 1 with no expansion of the board to 13 members until the August 2014 county general elections are decided and the winners take office Sept. 1, 2014.

That was the ruling Wednesday, Aug. 7, from U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays which was also highly critical of plans by a majority on the Shelby County Commission to take the school board to 13 members next month by appointing six new members between now and then.

Instead, Mays ruled the commission can take the school board to 13 members a year from Sept. 1 with the six new positions on the August 2014 county general election ballot.

He also approved the set of district lines the commission submitted for the 13 district school board.

The school board now has 23 members under terms of a 2011 settlement agreement among all sides in the Memphis Federal Court lawsuit. The nine members of the old Memphis City Schools board and the seven members of the old Shelby County Schools board go off the board effective Sept. 1 under terms of the settlement. That leaves seven members representing seven districts that cover the entire county. The commission appointed citizens to those seven positions in 2011 and the seats were then put on the August 2012 ballot for election.

Allowing the commission to expand the seven-member board to 13 positions with smaller districts and new district boundaries was agreed to in the settlement. But Mays never agreed that the provisions automatically meant the commission could appoint six new members.

Mays wrote in the ruling released Wednesday evening that allowing the commission to appoint six new school board members to go with the seven elected in 2012 “is not the means of selection contemplated in the consent decree.”

“The Shelby County Commission’s proposed method does not capture the highly unusual circumstances here,” he added. “The issue here, unlike the cases relied on by the Shelby County Commission, is not the appointment of officials to vacancies created in the ordinary course of government; it is the appointment of members to fill commission-created positions on a newly constituted board, resulting in a situation in which some voters are left without elected representation during a time of critical public importance.”

Mays also described the commission’s position in the specific legal issue as threatening “to impede the purpose of the consent decree.”

“Increasing the number of school board members is an ancillary feature of the decree; effectively combining two school systems with some 150,000 students does not hinge on the size of the school board,” Mays added. “Expanding the school board by appointing six unelected members at a critical time creates uncertainty and potentially undermines the legitimacy of the school board’s decision making. … Appointing six additional members would unnecessarily dilute the school board’s responsiveness to the voters of Shelby County.”