By Jackson Baker,
March 20, 2012

Even as state Attorney General Robert Cooper was issuing his opinion Tuesday that subutrban action should be delayed until the completion of city/county school merger, Republican legislative leaders were moving quickly to speed up that process.
Moving through the Tennessee General Assembly under the sponsorship of state Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville), the Senate majority leader, and state Rep. Gerald McCormiuck (R-Chattanooga), the House majority leader, is a bill (*SB 2908, HB 3234) that would legalize the creation of new municipal school districts statewide, as of January 1, 2013.
If passed during the current legislative session and signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam, the bill would shortcut by 9 months the wait of five suburbs before they can take concrete steps to establish independent municipal school districts.
The suburban municipalities are Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett,Lakeland, and Arlington.
An opinion by AG Cooper on Tuesday had stated that no move — not even the referenda planned by the suburbs for May 10 to get citizen sanction for the new school districts — could be taken until the currently planned August 2013 merger date for Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools.
(The 2011 Norris-Todd bill on school merger had acted to lift the ban on new special or municipal districts, but in Shelby County only, as of the August 2013 date.)
Cooper’s opinion further stated that only municipalities with existing school systems could hold referenda or take other concrete steps to establish new districts — something of a Catch-22, inasmuch as the districts would have to await the completion of MCS-SCS merger.
The Norris-McCormick legislation, which could be heard by the Senate Finance,Ways & Means Committee as early as this week, would allow for new districts — and thus concrete steps toward formalizing them — even before the scheduled city-county merger date, which itself could be sped up by additional legislation.
Presumably, though, U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays, whose court has jurisdiction over the merger, would need to authorize any significant alterations of deadline dates — not only those In the pendig legislation but any postponement of the sort — a year’s delay in proceeding along the merger path — advocated by Transition Planning Commission member David Pickler.
Pickler’s proposal had seemingly met with favorable response among a variety of interested principals — though suburban mayors had expressed their intention to proceed with the May 10 referenda, now apparently on hold.

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