Judge Rules Suburban Schools No Good for Now

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(Memphis)  US District Judge Samuel Mays has ruled the creation of municipal school districts in Shelby County is not allowed under the Tennessee constitution.

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In effect, the referendums in August to create municipal districts and the election of suburban school board members in November are all void.

Therefore in August 2013, no municipal districts will be allowed. All students will be under the Shelby County School District.

Mays wrote that although this law was written generally, it violates the state constitution by affecting only one county. Only Shelby County had the exact circumstances for the law to apply.

Since its effect is local, local approval would have been needed from the county commission. But Mays wrote that no such provision was written in the law.

Meanwhile, he invited the parties involved to submit more arguments addressing only Chapter 970, which allows for municipal districts after the merger takes place.

At a Shelby County Schools board meeting Tuesday night, Chairman Billy Orgel said that he would not debate whether municipal districts should happen.

However, he urged the unified board to sit down with representatives from suburban Shelby County to solve issues related to the children's education, including the use of school buildings.

"As a community, we need to act like adults. And we need to sit down and talk, and look for solutions that don't involve going to court, that don't involve a judge to make decisions. But we need to think first and foremost about our children," Orgel said.

That sit-down talk may now be more important than ever, considering that everyone will be part of one district in 2013-14.

Martavius Jones, school board commissioner, said, "At this point, there's no choice. The judge has invalidated the results of the election. And so instead of taking the divisive actions that we've taken over the last couple of years, let's do what's best for all children in Shelby County."

What's "best" may be a matter of disagreement, especially as suburban cities are already vowing to continue their fight to break away.

Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald said there are still a lot of options for the municipalities.

"I said for two years this is a long process. There’s a possibility, depending about what it [the ruling] says, whether there would need to be any appeals. There’s a possibility for legislative relief in this next session, certainly the possibility for some type of municipal charter schools in the interim, as well as other possibilities that are going to be going on in Nashville in January and February," Mayor McDonald said.

But while there are a lot of avenues the suburbs can consider, the big question is whether the people who live in the municipalities are willing to keep paying for the fight. Bartlett alone has already spent $350,000 and voted Tuesday to spend $250,000 more in legal fees.