(Shelby County, TN) Lawmakers representing Shelby County suburbs filed bills Thursday in Nashville, attempting to lift the ban on municipal districts that ran into roadblocks last year.
In 2012, a federal judge struck down part of a law that allowed citizens to vote for school board members and prepare for the creation of a municipal district. That aspect of the law was deemed unconstitutional, because the judge felt those circumstances only applied to Shelby County.
“This is not just a Shelby County issue. It wasn’t intended to be taken that way a year ago,” said Mark Norris, the state senator from Collierville.
But this time, the bills filed cover all bases, heading off potential problems by first, making the bill apply to all of Tennessee.
“Everybody on all parts of this, has seen that this needs to be a clean, statewide bill. We know that we have to sit there and let it apply to everybody,” said Mike Wissman, mayor of Arlington.
But Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz said, “Almost every other county in the state didn’t want municipal schools. So they tailored it just for Shelby County. Thus, we’ve been winning in the courtroom.”
Ritz said if the new bill is indeed for the whole state, other lawmakers in Tennessee will have to agree to allow municipal districts.
Several other bills cover various scenarios that are yet to be addressed, like the cap on the number of districts allowed per county or the way school buildings are to be transferred.
“I don’t want to be too overly excited, I would say at this time. I would say our citizens, the citizens of the suburbs are going to be happy. Because a lot of them are under the impression that they were told this merge was going to be efficient, that we weren’t going to see any changes, and I think we’re seeing just the opposite,” Wissman said, referring to the huge budget gap the unified system is facing.
Norris argued that allowing for suburbs to increase their own taxes to pay for their respective school systems would ease the burden of the merged district.
“You essentially have the citizens of the surrounding suburbs saying hey, let us help pick up the tab…Contrary to what is often portrayed, you actually have suburban citizens offering to help,” Norris said.
But Ritz disagrees. He said a big part of the budget gap is due to the city of Memphis defunding Memphis City Schools to the tune of $60 million. That gap will still be there, regardless of whether there are municipal districts.
In addition, Ritz said that educating fewer students in the merged district would mean even further cuts to administrative positions than already planned.
If municipal districts form, Norris said it would not happen in time for the 2013-2014 school year.
If it does happen at some point, there is bound to be more opposition along the way.
Ritz said, “If one of the municipalities appear to create a segregated school system, I suspect a majority of the commission will vote to sue that suburb.”