Courts unlikely to force county inclusion in school charter vote - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Courts unlikely to force county inclusion in school charter vote

By Kontji Anthony - bio | email | Facebook

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - After the Memphis City Council and the Memphis City Schools board voted Tuesday to move forward with the MCS charter surrender Tuesday, many expect the fight to move to a courtroom.

Many Shelby County residents believe they should have a say in the vote because their taxes fund city schools.  But University of Memphis Constitutional Law professor Steve Mulroy says a 1996 Federal Appeals ruling puts the breaks on the suburban inclusion argument.

"Under my understanding of the law, there's no real legal basis for them to get a court to force them to be included," Mulroy said Wednesday.

In the nineties, the situation was reversed.  Memphis City Schools wanted to take part in a Shelby County Schools board vote, and the courts found that unconstitutional.

"There's language in that opinion that says that they would think the same thing would occur if it was the other way around," Mulroy said.

Tennessee lawmakers may have their hands tied in attempts to pass a law to include suburban voters.  For one, the state legislature is on a break, moving future votes to mid or late February.

"There's an argument that it's too late because once you have an election date set, then you can't have a law that applies retroactively," Mulroy said.

And even if lawsuits are filed, they might not stop school unification.

"There could be litigation going on. But in the meantime, there could still be a referendum, and if it passes, there still could be a unified school board appointed or elected, and the transition could begin and all of that could be going on even if there is background litigation," Mulroy said. "So the mere fact that somebody files a lawsuit doesn't mean automatically they get a court to order that everything freezes.  Things are going to still keep going.  This process is going forward."

When it comes to equal representation on the upcoming unified school board, Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz proposed Wednesday the commission appoint 16 new members to represent Memphis. That could bring the total number of school board members to 23 for a short time, until the seven current members are cycled out over the next two to four years.

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