May Referendum on Municipal Schools Districts Is Off the Table

Mar 21, 2012

It looks like the suburbanites of Shelby County will not get to vote on whether or not to form their own school districts, at least not in May. 

The Shelby County Election Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to deny their requests based upon advice from their lawyers.

Election Commission legal counsel John Ryder told the commission that the municipalities request to hold a May 10 referendum is “procedurally flawed.” 

“According to the attorney general those requests cannot be made until the transfer of administration of schools is complete. That would be a procedural requirement,” said Ryder. “So the election commission then is being asked to examine whether or not the request has met all of the procedural requirements to be placed on the ballot.”

Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper issued an opinion late Tuesday stating, “Tennessee law currently prohibits a municipality in Shelby County from taking any action to establish a school system.”

Cooper said the referendum would violate the so-called Norris-Todd law, passed last year, governing the consolidation of Memphis and Shelby County schools.

Ryder conferred with the Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins at length before advising the commission.

Ryder also advised the commissioners that they should vote on the matter, so that if any party wishes to dispute the denial they have a place to begin legally.