Suburbs Start Again on Municipal Schools

By Bill Dries

Aldermen in five of the six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County began the move Monday, May 6, to a July 16 referendum date for a second round of referendums on forming municipal school districts possibly as early as the 2014-2015 school year.

The referendum ordinances were passed on the first of three readings by each board of aldermen in Millington, Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett and Arlington.

Lakeland commissioners approved first reading of their referendum ordinance in April with the same July special election date.

Results of a similar set of referendums and six sets of school board elections in each of the six towns and cities in 2012 were all voided when U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays ruled the state law permitting them to be unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, attorneys for the Shelby County Commission are offering a compromise on the commission’s plan to appoint six new countywide school board members effective Sept. 1. It is a set of at-large or countywide appointments.

The attorneys filed maps Monday, May 6 of the proposed redistricting plan for the school board, as requested by Mays at an April 30 hearing in the Western District of Tennessee.

But they also floated the “alternative proposal” to answer concerns Mays expressed last month about the plan to redistrict what otherwise becomes a seven-member countywide school board on Sept. 1.

The commission’s original plan is to make it a 13-member school board. The commission would appoint six new members to serve through August 2014 county general elections.

Mays is concerned the appointments would raise equal protection constitutional issues because the seven board members who remain on Sept. 1 were just elected in 2012 in districts covering the entire county.

The new district boundaries for a 13-member school board mean some citizens may no longer be represented by the school board member they elected in 2012. They could be in the district of another school board member they didn’t elect or in the district of an appointed school board member for a year.

Attorneys Lori H. Patterson and Leo Bearman, representing the commission, contend there are no equal protection concerns.

But their alternative is to allow the commission to appoint six new school board members who would serve at-large. They would not represent a specific geographical district but would represent the entire county.

The elections to the six district seats would be included on the August 2014 county general election ballot with the new board members elected there taking office Sept. 1, 2014.

“This proposal would result in all individuals within Shelby County having equal representation by both elected and appointed members of the school board,” Patterson and Bearman wrote. “As a result, no equal protection concerns would be implicated.”

A resolution outlining the alternative of at-large appointments would still have to be voted on by the commission if accepted by Mays.