Sat04192014

News

‘No’ vote stalls bill on Municipal districts

A giant thud resounded Wednesday in Nashville as the Tennessee House of Representatives closed a door that would have allowed the suburbs surrounding Memphis to forego participation in a merged Memphis and Shelby County school system.

by Tony Jones
Special to the Tri-State Defender

A giant thud resounded Wednesday in Nashville as the Tennessee House of Representatives closed a door that would have allowed the suburbs surrounding Memphis to forego participation in a merged Memphis and Shelby County school system.

Wednesday’s decision derailed a 17-8 vote in the Senate on Monday. By that nine-vote margin, the Senate had adopted an amendment allowing the smaller cities surrounding Memphis to opt out of the federally mandated consolidated school system. And, just as importantly, to conduct referendums to determine whether residents in those areas were willing to fund and run their own independent school systems.

The House vote notwithstanding, the matter may not be dead. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) has voiced his intention to pursue a way around the snag. It was Norris who crafted the municipal-referendum amendment that garnered majority support in the Senate on Monday.

In the House on Wednesday, the pending municipal-district referendum amendment, which was linked to an unrelated education bill, crashed into concern that the legislation could create a flood of new special school districts across the state. TSD calls to Norris, as well as Rep. John Deberry (D-Memphis), who is on the House Education Committee hearing the bill, had not be returned by press time.

While he cannot – and does not try to – claim any credit for the House’s nay vote, Unified School Board Member Martavius Jones did traveled to Nashville this week to voice opposition to the municipal-district referendum amendment.

“I wanted to make the point that what they were doing was simply pushing this back into the courts because the legislation is aimed specifically at Shelby County, and that is unconstitutional,” said Jones, who also is a member of the Transition Planning Commission charged with helping Memphis and Shelby Country step toward a merged system.

Noting that operating a successful school system is no easy task, Jones fielded this TSD question: Who will be responsible if they (suburban cities) discover that their tax base cannot really afford to build, maintain and operate a safe school system?

“The county school system is the default school system for this entire district, if they fail the ball will be handed on to us,” said Jones. “The difference is that we cannot discriminate. The unified board has to build a system that has no choice of who it educates, regardless of race or socio-economic status.”

An all-out effort must be made to create a system that is “as welcome as possible to accept and is dedicated to educating children who may have suffered setbacks by no doing of their own,” said Jones.

“We cannot turn anyone away and we will never work to have a system that does.”

 

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