Questions remain after Memphis, Shelby Co. Schools merger ruling - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Questions remain after Memphis, Shelby Co. Schools merger ruling

(WMC-TV) - Shelby County Commissioners held a special meeting with their attorneys Tuesday, less than 24 hours after a federal judge announced that Memphis and Shelby County Schools will merge.

Commissioners said the makeup of the current and future Shelby County School Board is their most debatable dilemma.

"I think there are a few more issues that need to be resolved," said Shelby County Commissioner Mike Carpenter.

Commissioners could not reveal what happened in their attorney-client meeting Tuesday, but had a lot to say about the single most critical school merger issue still up in the air.

"The constitutionality of the makeup of the Shelby County School Board," said Carpenter.

The judge ruled that the current Shelby County School Board is unconstitutional because Memphis is now unrepresented.  The ruling said, "there's a constitutional violation, and a remedy is mandated."

"We'll have to submit our ideas to the judge, as do the other parties, and he'll tell us which direction we can go," said Carpenter.

The judge ruled that the merged school system must have seven board members.  That means redistricting must follow.

"All we've got to do is draw the lines and make sure we've got a board that is representative of the entire community," said Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism.

The new school board could be appointed by the county commission before the end of the year, or elected in August 2012.

The newly formed school board would be responsible for building the merged school system from the ground up.  It will consist of five commissioners who live in Memphis and two commissioners who live in the county.

The power shift concerns some county residents.

"Some people in the county will never be happy," said Chism.  "So, we can't worry about that.  We've got to be concerned about what's good and right for the kids."

"Our future workplace in this community and our ability to grow economically are dependent upon making this work," said Carpenter.

Meanwhile, colossal changes are in store for the Memphis and Shelby County Schools before the August 2013 merger date.

Shelby County Commissioner and University of Memphis constitutional law professor Steve Mulroy scoured all 146 pages of the judge's ruling.

Mulroy said the first major undertaking happens Friday, when attorneys decide when to appoint or elect the merged school board.

"Certainly this year," said Mulroy.

Mulroy said it is unclear who will be superintendent.

"If that unified school board decides they want somebody else ... they can do that," he said.

The ruling strips the Memphis City Council and administration of future say in transition plans.  The city school board also loses final authority.

"It will wind down its affairs, help to smooth the transition," said Mulroy.

While state and county lawmakers control the appointment of school transition planning commissioners, Mulroy said the ultimate power will rest in the hands of the merged school board.

"The ultimate authority to approve ... the Norris-Todd planning commission will rest with the unified school board," said Mulroy.

Mulroy said the city will no longer be required to pay the $78 million annual maintenance of effort for schools.

"We are not obligated to pick that up," said Mulroy.

It is unclear what that means for the new district.  The city is still required to pay any outstanding money owed to city schools.

County school leaders said they have heard no recent talk of creating a special school district to keep the schools separate.  It is also unclear if state lawmakers can step in and undo the merger before the start of the start of the merged school system in August 2013.

A series of meetings are scheduled over the next several days to sort things out.

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