State attorney general Robert Cooper, Jr. issued his opinion Tuesday afternoon—the suburbs outside of Memphis can’t plan to create their own separate, municipal school districts until after Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools merge in August of 2013.
State Senator Beverly Marrero, a Democrat from Memphis, asked the attorney general if the suburbs could hold referendums on the issue scheduled for May 10, 2012. Cooper said no.
The attorney general said the referendums would violate the state law that governs the consolidation of Memphis and Shelby County Schools, known as the Norris-Todd Law. Cooper wrote that the law requires the suburbs take the time “to evaluate the plan developed [for the merged Memphis and Shelby County school district] before having the option to pursue establishment of a new school system.” That plan is not complete.
“It’s not a binding opinion in the sense that this opinion comes out and then everyone stops what they’re doing,” said Senior Reporter for the Memphis Daily News Bill Dries. “But this is an opinion that will probably carry a great deal of weight with the Shelby County Election Commission, and the election commission is the body that decides whether or not there are going to be some May 10th ballot questions on forming a municipal school district.”
But if the election commission refuses to hold put the question on the ballot, it’s possible that the suburban mayors will take the issue to court.
There is also new legislation in Nashville that aims to lift a statewide moratorium on municipal school districts, starting in January 2013. The legislation is sponsored by state senator Mark Norris, a Republican from Collierville. Dries says that legislation could be rewritten to allow the suburbs here in Shelby County to plan for their own separate school districts well ahead of the merger of Memphis and Shelby County Schools.
“Meaning you can go ahead and start the leg-work on it [separate municipal school districts] and jumping through the hoops now, and then set an effective date for the actual school system to open in January of 2013,” Dries said.