Suburbs Return School Districts to Ballot

By Bill Dries

As three of Shelby County’s six suburban towns and cities locked in July 16 referendums on forming municipal school districts, there were indications of renewed discussions between the suburban leaders and Shelby County Commissioners on the terms of forming those districts.

Aldermen in Millington, Arlington and Collierville have approved referendum ordinances to put ballot questions on the formation of the school districts to voters.

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)

Aldermen in Millington, Arlington and Collierville gave final approval Monday, May 20, to referendum ordinances that would put ballot questions on the formation of the school districts to voters.

Lakeland commissioners were expected to take the same action toward a July 16 referendum at a meeting Tuesday, with Bartlett and Germantown aldermen following on Thursday.

Meanwhile Shelby County Commission Chairman Mike Ritz announced Monday that he and leaders of the six suburban towns and cities are trying to find times to meet and discuss the formation of the suburban school districts.

Private talks late last year into this year failed to produce an agreement on terms for establishing such school districts.

The talks then revolved around a plan to establish charter school districts.

But that was before the Tennessee legislature met later in 2013 and passed a new law that lifts the state ban on establishing municipal school districts.

U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays struck down the 2012 state law allowing the creation of the municipal school districts in Shelby County because it applied only to Shelby County. The ruling in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee in November voided elections results in all six suburban towns and cities in which ballot questions calling for the municipal school districts were approved by voters, as well as six separate sets of school board races for the districts.

Still in place and in effect are the companion sales tax increases approved by voters in each of the six towns and cities that would fund municipal school districts. In the case of Lakeland, the tax hike was paired with the town’s first ever property tax.

The legislature passed the new law this year as Mays was considering a second ruling on the Shelby County Commission’s multi-pronged challenge of the municipal school districts. Still pending is the commission’s challenge of the municipal school districts, claiming that they would racially resegregate public schools in Shelby County.

Countywide school board leaders also have been approached by suburban leaders about talks. The school board, which is not a party in the federal court case, was not involved in the earlier talks.

On another front earlier this month, Memphis City Council members approved a resolution to start three-way talks with the countywide school board and the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. on the Memphis City Schools system’s court judgment against the city for $57 million and a counterclaim by the city against the school system for more than double that.

The council set an end of May deadline for resolving the legal standoff.

Interim schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said he is open to the discussions that could produce some one-time amount of funding from the city of Memphis in the first fiscal year of the schools merger, which begins July 1.