School merger court negotiations fail - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

School merger court negotiations fail

The suburban mayors entering mediation in November. The suburban mayors entering mediation in November.
(WMC-TV) - The school merger court negotiations between the Shelby County Commission and Shelby County suburban mayors failed. 

For months, the county commission was trying to block the suburbs from creating their own municipal schools.

County Commissioner Mike Ritz said he initiated the end of mediation when he heard the suburban mayors were meeting with Nashville lawmakers.

He said he felt that they were not negotiating in good faith and that they were seeking to have state lawmakers find a way to allow charter or municipal schools.

The suburban mayors said they had a mediation deadline and they knew mediation was over before they took the trip to Nashville to meet with state lawmakers this week.

The mayors said the county commission wanted too much control. 

"They wouldn't let it go. They wanted to control what our negotiations with the school system would have to be, and that's not right. It's not their place," said City of Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald. 

Now a judge will have to rule on the commission's lawsuit to stop the suburbs from forming their own municipal schools.

Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy is also a University of Memphis constitutional law professor.

He said one issue on which the judge will need to rule is a law passed by Collierville Senators Mark Norris and Curry Todd. 

"The 2011 Section 3 of Norris-Todd lifts the ban on municipal school districts," said Mulroy.

But for now, the ban on municipal schools remains.

The court case centers on the Shelby County Commission seeking to stop the suburbs from forming their own municipal schools.

The other undecided issue is how municipal schools would be formed.

"Specifying the procedures for how you go about setting up municipal schools, how you do the referendum and what has to happen. That still needs to be decided," said Mulroy.

Then there is the very sensitive issue of race.

"Completely separate is a federal constitutional claim under the Equal Protection Clause talking about racial discrimination and racial desegregation in schools," he said. 

Mayor Mike Wissman of Arlington said even if the judge rules municipal schools unconstitutional, the state may pass laws for all of Tennessee that will allow the Shelby County suburbs their way. 

Copyright 2013 WMC-TV.

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