Shelby Bill Likely to Allow New School Systems Statewide

State legislators representing Shelby County suburban cities say they may file a bill this week to repeal Tennessee’s 15-year-old prohibition on new municipal school systems statewide, according to the Commercial Appeal.
(Note: The bill filing deadline for the 2013 session is Thursday.)
The state legislature last year lifted the ban only in Shelby County, but a federal judge in Memphis ruled a Shelby-only bill violated the Tennessee Constitution.
That municipal school approach is favored by suburban leaders over a plan for converting schools in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington into charter schools under the municipalities’ control. The suburban mayors had focused on charter schools in their negotiations with the County Commission and City Council but ended the talks Friday after declaring an impasse primarily over how much control the suburbs would have. A charter school approach could remain on the legislative table as a backup plan.
If the legislature legalized the creation of new municipal school systems across the state, it could negate the key provision that U.S. District Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays overturned Nov. 27 — but other issues, including Equal Protection considerations over the possibility of resegregation of schools in Shelby County, are before the judge for review.
Shelby’s suburban state legislators struggled through the 2012 legislative session, especially in the House of Representatives, to win approval of the bill that allowed the suburban cities to hold referendums on creating new municipal districts and elections for school board members after voters approved the new districts. House leaders resisted lifting the ban statewide and eventually limited it to Shelby County.
But with Mays’ ruling forcing them to regroup, suburban mayors and legislators are more confident they can win approval of a statewide repeal because of several reasons:
Richard Montgomery, the Sevierville Republican who chaired the House Education Committee in 2011-12, lost re-election to a GOP primary challenger last August. Montgomery had favored limiting last year’s bill to Shelby County.
The new chairman, Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, participated in a Nashville meeting Tuesday with all of Shelby County’s suburban legislators, the mayors or city managers of the six municipalities, legislative staff attorneys, attorneys for the suburbs and others to lay the groundwork for another legislative push. Brooks could not be reached this weekend but is likely more willing to consider a statewide repeal.
There has been so much turnover in the legislature that few members know why their predecessors in 1998 banned new municipal districts and have no institutional commitment to keeping the ban in place. The 1998 move was part of a comprehensive reform of Tennessee law governing municipal annexations, land-use and urban-growth planning, and when and how new towns can be established.

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