The Senate gave final legislative approval Monday to the bill letting the Memphis suburbs hold referendums this year on creating municipal school districts, despite charges that it’s “part of a growing trend … of apartheid in Shelby County.”
More from the Richard Locker report:
The bill now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam, who said earlier that he wanted the panel planning the merger of Memphis and Shelby County schools to complete its work before the suburbs decide on new municipal school systems. If the bill does become law, it may be the subject of further federal court review.
In his ruling in the schools consolidation lawsuit last August, U.S. Dist. Judge Hardy Mays upheld last year’s Public Chapter 1 that set up the merger planning process but made it clear he was not ruling yet on provisions in that law allowing for new municipal or special school districts after the merger occurs.
Monday’s Senate approval would have been anti-climactic were it not for an exchange between the majority and minority leaders, both from Shelby County. The House approval Friday was the critical vote, because the Senate had approved virtually the same language last week.
The Senate’s 22-9 vote Monday was mostly along party lines, with Sens. Reginald Tate of Memphis and Charlotte Burks of Cookeville the only Democrats voting for the bill. All Republicans voted for it.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, raised the specter of “apartheid” and said the vote will haunt lawmakers. He singled out Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville.
“This is a matter that Senator Norris and I see about as completely, as differently as two men can see it,” he said. “While many of you view this as simply a partisan discussion or an urban and suburban discussion and it doesn’t affect you — You’re with your friends — I’ll say to you this: What this is is a part of a growing trend of, quite frankly, apartheid in Shelby County.
“That is where we are, that’s what we’re doing with these schools and that’s what you are voting for with this conference committee report to allow the suburban cities in Shelby County to form their own school systems so they don’t have to have their school systems with the people of Memphis, when almost 75 percent of every one of the jobs of those folks is in Memphis,” Kyle said.
“Now, one day this is going to come back to haunt you. … This is the first step down a road that the city of Memphis doesn’t need to go down and one day, the state of Tennessee is going to have to recognize that Memphis is the second-largest city and it’s going to have some problems. I want you to remember that day.
“But this is not just some partisan urban-suburban situation. This is about some folks saying, ‘No we’re going to be different. We don’t want to be with you,'” Kyle said.
Norris bristled at Kyle’s statements. “I will not dignify the remarks made by the gentleman across the aisle with a response,” he said.