Deadline given on school buildings

On January 27, 2012, in News 2012, by Mark Norris

Norris wants plan on ownership in month

By Jane Roberts,
January 27, 2012

Sen. Mark Norris plans to give local officials a month to come up with a plan for determining who gets public school buildings before he adds pressure from Nashville.

“We want to facilitate the transition process and give folks as much time as we can to come forward with some proposals,” Norris, Senate majority leader, said Friday.

In the meantime, Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, has agreed to drop a bill that would have given suburban schools to the municipalities hoping to start their own districts and collaborate with Norris.

“It doesn’t mean the issue is dead for the year,” said Norris, R-Collierville.

Norris wants the Transition Planning Commission to hear a presentation from suburban mayors on the role municipal districts could play in the unified district. He also wants to hear how the unified school board plans to deal with school buildings, including valuation and debt issues.

“The school property issue is still alive, and it needs to be resolved,” he said.

Unified school board chairman Billy Orgel said the board has a committee that already is looking into policies regarding facilities.

“I applaud Sen. Norris for encouraging us all to sit down and discuss the future either as one district or a district plus possible municipal ones,” Orgel said.

TPC chairwoman Barbara Prescott is willing to pass on any request from the municipalities to speak to the transition commission.

“The team has not said we don’t want to speak with them. We’re just trying to move forward on the very aggressive schedule we have to meet the deadline we have worked out with the districts to give them the time they need to implement the merger,” she said.

She also has heard the suggestion that municipal districts could be part of the unified plan.

Norris says it’s important that the TPC hear what the suburbs are planning in order “to see whether there is any way to incorporate what the municipalities are considering into the transition plan.”

Norris and Todd both say they didn’t coordinate their strategies before the bill-filing deadline Thursday.

“It was miscommunication all the way around,” Todd said. “We didn’t know what the other was doing. I assumed Mark would be the sponsor in the Senate, but we hadn’t had a chance to sit down and discuss it.

“We’re going to give the mayors and the municipalities a little more time to see if they can work with the transition team,” Todd said. “I made that clear with (Shelby County) Mayor Luttrell in a private meeting I had with him.”

Luttrell this week said legislative intervention on how schools should be divided was premature.

And Gov. Bill Haslam has said he was against bills that would interfere with the good-faith effort he sees in merger plans.

“I think he appreciated the more open-ended approach that gives folks time to do things,” Norris said of Haslam.

But Norris is also clear that the timeline is tight. He says he will amend bills to specifically address school buildings in a month.

“Everybody needs to proceed in good faith. I don’t want to prejudge what they may come up with, but we are running out of time,” Norris said.

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