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VOL. 129 | NO. 48 | Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Election Commission Hopeful for School Board Ruling

By Bill Dries

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John Ryder, an attorney for the Shelby County Election Commission, capped a week of cryptic court filings in the case by quoting a line from “Macbeth” as he made the Election Commission’s point that Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays should rule soon.


The ruling Ryder is seeking from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee is the Shelby County Commission’s plan for restructuring the Shelby County Schools board.

The Election Commission didn’t take a position on the plan to change the school board to a nine-member body with districts that cover the city of Memphis and unincorporated Shelby County but not the six suburban towns and cities.

“However, the Shelby County Election Commission would note that the filing deadline for candidates for the Shelby County School board under the current plan or any plan of redistricting is noon, April 3, 2014,” Ryder wrote, later adding the Shakespeare line – “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly.”

The day before Ryder’s filing, Mays denied a request by attorneys for a status conference as part of a motion by all sides in the three-year-old case for a dismissal of the part of the case in which the Shelby County Commission opposed the formation of suburban school districts.

The call for a dismissal of the case comes after all sides reached settlements with each of the six suburban communities forming their own school systems that set the terms for those districts including the transfer of buildings from Shelby County Schools.

“The court finds the motion is without merit and it is denied,” Mays wrote on the status conference motion. He did not address the request by all sides for the dismissal.

The settlements that led to the motion for dismissal also included some provisions for open enrollment in each of the suburban school systems.

And the chairman of the Collierville Schools board raised questions last week about the Germantown Schools board’s decision to charge tuition for the open enrollment of students in Germantown schools who do not live in Germantown.

“Tuition was very prominently discussed,” Collierville Schools board Chairman Mark Hansen said. “And we made a commitment to not put impediments in the way of children that want to attend our schools, including tuition, at least for the first years.”

Also citing the settlement terms and in-court discussions, Germantown Schools board members met in special session Friday and reversed their decision from earlier in the week to charge tuition with open enrollment.

The reconsideration is an indication of the changes in timing over the three-year history of the lawsuit that has varied from multiple political developments over the course of several hours to weeks and months in which all of the developments have been more predictable and within the school systems or individual schools.

The Collierville Schools board’s open enrollment policy specifically says no tuition will be charged. It also leaves open the possibility of reconsidering that at a later date. And several board members said the idea could be reopened if the cost of operating Collierville’s school district begins to include funding from the city’s property tax revenues.

At least for now, the school system’s operation is funded with local option sales tax revenue that Collierville voters allocated to go to schools in a referendum in which they raised the local sales tax rate for that purpose.

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