County Commission Sends 13-Member School Board Plan to Judge

By Bill Dries

Shelby County Commissioners approved a plan Monday, March 18, to convert the countywide school board to a 13-member single district body effective Sept. 1.

The plan which includes district lines that are almost but not an identical match of the 13-member single districts to be used in county commission elections in 2014 goes to Memphis Federal Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays for his action.

If Mays approves, the commission would appoint six citizens to the added positions who begin serving Sept. 1.

That is when the 23-member board loses 16 members – nine from the old Memphis City Schools board and seven from the old Shelby County Schools board. That leaves the seven school board members elected in 2012 to staggered terms.

Ten of the 13 newly configured district seats go on the 2014 ballot. The remaining three are on the 2016 ballot for the first time.

The commission action on the resolution sends the matter to Mays as the county awaits legal opinions and possibly guidance from the court on what happens to the 13-member structure if the six suburban cities and towns in Shelby County are able to create separate municipal school districts.

Shelby County Attorney Kelly Rayne told commissioners Monday there is no clear answer on whether the suburban towns and cities would then be eliminated from the district map and not have any representation on the board. And there could be questions about whether the terms of board members elected in 2014 could be shortened in that event.

The commission had a solid eight-vote majority to move ahead with the plan that consisted of all seven Democrats on the 13-member commission along with Republican Mike Ritz, who is chairman of the commission.

The eight-vote majority voted down several attempts by the remaining five Republican commissioners to delay a vote on the resolution.

In other action, the commission changed its ordinance that would have given Memphis City Schools teachers who live outside Shelby County five years to move within the county and meet county government residency requirements that apply with the schools merger.

The commission dropped the five year grace period and instead approved an amendment by commissioner Steve Basar to grandfather in all current MCS employees – that is make them exempt from having to meet the residency requirement.

Because the ordinance was amended on what would have been its third and final reading, it comes back to the commission next month for a final vote.

And the commission voted down the second of three readings of a referendum ordinance to ask voters across the county in the August 2014 elections to abolish the county residency requirement in the county charter. The measure failed on a 5-5 tie vote with three commissioners abstaining. Despite the defeat, the ordinance advances to third reading in April.