Decades-old law adds to charter surrender confusion - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Decades-old law adds to charter surrender confusion

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By Anna Marie Hartman - bio | email | Facebook

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - A vague law from the 1940's is partly to blame for why there is so much confusion over the Memphis City Schools charter surrender, and the protocol to make it happen.

There are a number of Tennessee laws that make it possible to put a school district out of business, including statutes on annexation, dissolution, reorganization or transfer.  But the law the Memphis City Schools board is exercising to surrender its charter has never been used, though it has been on the books since 1948.

"For some reason, it's an anomaly in the sense that this special school district law provided for abolition, but didn't set out a clear process for how that would be effective," said Tennessee Education Commissioner Patrick Smith.

Nashville lawmakers agree that Tennessee Code 49-02-502 won't support an orderly transfer of Memphis City Schools to Shelby County.  A three sentence long statute that only mentions:

- the school board is authorized to transfer schools to the county board of education.
- the transfer would have to first be approved by voters through a referendum.
- the county election commission would have to hold that election which would be paid for by the requesting school district.

"The reason that Memphis City Schools chose, we chose 49-2-502, is because MCS is a special school district," said school board member Martavius Jones. "Chattanooga and Knoxville were municipal school districts."

But the 63 year old law doesn't mention anything about planning for a transfer, which in this case would create the 16th largest school district in the country.   

"It won't work," said Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville. "There's no way it would work, so we'd like to see a plan."

A plan that, if passed by the full house and senate, would require a two-and-a-half year transition period before Memphis and Shelby County Schools could become one.

If passed in the full Tennessee House and Senate, the waiting period would go into effect even if voters approve a charter surrender on March 8th.

You can read the three sentence law word for word by clicking here.

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