By Kontji Anthony,
January 13, 2011

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) – Tennessee State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris drafted a bill that would allow suburban residents to vote in the Memphis City Schools charter referendum.

Norris said he joined the charter surrender fight to answer the community’s need for structure amid chaos.

“It’s really a roadmap to resolution,” said Norris. “I know there are others who are trying to make it something different.”

Norris’ bill to apply consolidation guidelines to the process passed in committee Thursday. Those guidelines require a countywide vote on the referendum to merge Memphis and Shelby County Schools.

Norris said allowing only Memphians to vote on the referendum denies suburban voters’ rights and could lead to lawsuits.

“Just as we’ve now had one lawsuit filed, there will be more if voters are deprived the right to vote,” said Norris.

Norris’ bill still needs approval in the House and Senate, but he said he would delay it a year if the school systems compromise.

“If their accord is finalized, there won’t be a referendum, by their wishes, for at least 12 months,” he said.

Norris said ultimately, unification without conclusion defeats the purpose.

Thursday night, Norris issued the following statement:

SB25, which codifies existing state law regarding the unification of schools via transfer of special school district administrations, passed first consideration today after introduction in the Senate yesterday. Shortly thereafter, I was advised that attorneys for Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools have reached an agreement in principle concerning efforts by Memphis City Schools to surrender its charter. Further legislative action this week seems unwarranted, therefore, in light of this positive development. The pendency of SB25 should not interfere in any way with the parties’ efforts to peaceably resolve an issue of such magnitude and importance to the schoolchildren and all residents of our County. The impact of litigation filed in Shelby County Chancery Court yesterday may be of more concern to the schools; it has no effect on the subject legislation.

I commend the representatives of both school systems for their efforts and hope they result in an orderly process. The right of our citizens to vote based on accurate information is critical to our future success.


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