Shelby County Commission Files Petition To Stop School Vote
(Memphis) The Shelby County Commission has filed a petition to stop an August vote that could create suburban school districts.
The petition was filed late Tuesday afternoon.
The petition would stop the creation of separate school districts for cities like Bartlett, Germantown and others who do not want to be part of the new unified school district.
Commissioner Mike Ritz said the commission’s obligation to partially fund so many districts would financially damage the county.
“We’re convinced it’s going to be a more expensive proposition to have municipal school districts for the county,” Ritz said.
The lawsuit argues the laws allowing municipal and special school districts is illegal, because some believe it was meant only for Shelby County. Laws targeted for one specific group of people are called ‘special legislation.’
“Special legislation is not legal in Tennessee. And if in fact we can prove that this law was passed to apply only to Shelby County, then we might be successful,” Ritz said.
But others say laws are often passed for the purpose of serving one jurisdiction.
Senator Mark Norris, whose bill allowed for the creation of special school districts after a city-county merger, told News Channel 3 the argument has no merit.
He called this action “litigation over unification,” and that Judge Samuel H. Mays has previously opined that this argument is invalid.
The commission decided to file this lawsuit behind closed doors Tuesday. Executive session does not require a vote, but a majority of commissioners can decide to go forward with the action.
Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald said he was “offended” and will launch an investigation to see if any sunshine laws were broken, since there was no open vote.
The lawsuit also alleges the creation of municipal districts would segregate the students of Shelby County.
Commissioner Ritz said that other than Millington, he believes any municipal district would segregate the county’s student body.
Commissioner Chris Thomas disagreed.
Peter Martin, with a citizen organization called ‘Better Bartlett Schools,’ also found that argument strange.
“Anybody from any race goes into the school. And I’ll tell you I’ll fight for that right,” Martin said.
Martin said this lawsuit only makes him want to double his efforts to get out the vote on August 2nd.
Adrian Terry, who was two sons in Bartlett schools, is also supportive of a municipal district and wants a chance to vote.
“I don’t think that’s very fair. It should be up to the people to decide how they want the education system to be constructed,” Terry said.
Absentee ballots have already been sent out, and early voting for the referendums begin July 13.