School Building Sale Still Unresolved

On December 15, 2011, in News 2011, by Mark Norris

By Bill Dries,
December 15, 2011

The countywide school board member who thought about having a set of rules in place to specifically set the terms of selling or transferring school buildings to a separate suburban school district called off the move this week.

However, in pulling his resolution off the school board agenda Tuesday, Dec. 13, Martavius Jones said the question could be settled with a lawsuit.

The move is hardly the end of the discussion about what would happen should Shelby County’s suburban municipalities all together – or in some combination – seek to establish a school district separate from the soon-to-be-consolidated countywide school system.

Jones had proposed a resolution that would have had both superintendents work with their staffs to come up with a policy recommendation on the terms for selling or giving school buildings to such a school district.

“I don’t know exactly what the Tennessee General Assembly will do in Nashville,” Jones said, referring to talk of some legislative action starting next month on the transfer of school property. “Let’s say the General Assembly says that the unified school district is required to deed over properties that are located in the municipalities to that municipal school district. That does not prevent me as an individual citizen from being a part of a class of Memphians who could contest that as private citizens … in a court of law.”

All six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County outside Memphis have hired the same consulting firm to advise them on options for creating a separate school system. The reports from the consultants are due next month.

The cost of school buildings and the resulting debt their purchase at market value might create for a suburban city or combination of cities is expected to be a critical factor in any decision.

Arlington leaders formed a political action committee this fall with a goal of affecting legislative races on the 2012 ballot and to lobby in Nashville.

Under terms of the Norris-Todd law governing the consolidation of Shelby County’s two public school systems, a move toward special school district or municipal school district status could not begin until the August 2013 merger of the two school systems. It would require specific approval from the Tennessee legislature.

Tennessee Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, coauthor of the Norris-Todd bill, left open the possibility of some additional legislation in a recent interview for an episode of the WKNO television program “Newsmakers” that premiered Wednesday, Dec. 14.

“I would prefer that there not be an obsession with that in 2012,” Norris said of Jones’ move toward a resolution. “They have a year here to let the process run its course and to see whether that is really necessary. I’m confident that legislation will be drafted.”

Jones said a lawsuit seeking class-action status would argue, “Memphians have invested in all of those buildings outside the city limits as well as inside the city of Memphis.”

The two school systems remain separate until the start of the 2013-2014 school year, although a single countywide school board took office in October. The board oversees the two school systems, which are run for now by two separate superintendents and staffs.

Jones said his decision is not an attempt to stand down in hopes the suburban leaders and legislators will not pursue their options.

“There’s no law right now,” he said. “I think the General Assembly would start with a blank slate and they could craft it however they would want it to look.”

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