New Hearing Set For Municipal School Vote

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(Memphis) U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays has ruled a hearing will be held Thursday morning to deal with the constitutionality of allowing municipal school districts.

The Thursday morning hearing will be held the day before early voting begins. With the planned referendum on August 2nd, residents in Shelby County suburbs will have their say on whether they want to pay increased taxes in order to have their own school districts.

The Shelby County Commission wants to stop the vote from taking place.

The petition filed by the county 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.

So far, the cities of Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, and Lakeland have hired a law firm to represent them in the latest lawsuit.

The city of Memphis and Memphis City Council will likely also join the lawsuit, taking a side with the county commission to stop the election.

The lawsuit contends that the state law allowing municipal districts was passed solely for Shelby County and is therefore illegal. The complaint also claims municipal districts would effectively segregate the students of Shelby County.

Judge Mays said Monday in a status hearing that it would be impossible to appropriately address the race discrimination argument before voting begins. He said that would require statistical proof by experts that may take months.

While he did not dismiss that part of the lawsuit, he will not entertain those arguments at Thursday’s hearing.

Thursday’s hearing will focus on the legality of municipal districts in Shelby County, specifically referring to whether Article XI Sections 8 and 9 of the Tennessee constitution may have been violated.

Those sections pertain to special legislation, when a state law is created specifically for one jurisdiction, like Shelby County.

Judge Mays emphasized that there is a heavy burden to persuade any judge to stop an election, especially one where absentee ballots are already coming back.

Keith McDonald, the mayor of Bartlett, was among those watching the action in Monday’s hearing.

“I was a little surprised he went as quickly as going to Thursday,” McDonald said. “I really feel like even he seemed at some points…he appeared to be feeling like this can’t come together. This proof can’t come together that quickly.”

Indeed, briefs for the arguments will have to be filed by Wednesday evening.

Bartlett residents attended a town hall Monday night to learn the latest updates.

“I think that’s a wise decision to keep it within that framework,” said Anne Edmiston, referring to the hearing addressing only legal matters rather than arguments of racial discrimination.

Edmiston’s daughter graduated from Bartlett High School.

“In my heart, I think things will be worked out and the referendum will take place,” she said.

Derek Venckus, representing the citizens’ group called Better Bartlett Schools, said people should still get educated about the issue and be prepared to vote.

“You never know what’s going to happen, and that’s just life. But we’re confident that our elected officials have done their background work, and they’ve prepared for this moment.”