By Joe White,
April 2, 2012

A Shelby County fight over who should run the schools boiled over into the rest of the state last night. A proposal that passed in the state senate would allow the creation of new city schools.

New city school systems have been barred by state law since 1998, but the merger of the Memphis and Shelby County school systems revived the issue. Five of the county’s six suburban cities have been lobbying to set up their own, city-run systems, to avoid being in the merged district.

Senator Mark Norris says his bill would let them do that – though it’s written to cover the whole state.

“What this does really has less to do with Shelby County, and more with the rest of the state in sort of eradicating that vestige of a time past, when these impediments were in place.”

Norris got the bill through the Senate 19 to 13, over objections of Democrats who foresaw rich cities cutting themselves loose from poorer surrounding county citizens.

The House version of the bill, carried by the House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, is on the agenda for the House Education Committee Tuesday.

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The bill, SB 2908 Norris/ HB 3234 McCormick, was opposed by Memphis Senator Jim Kyle, who says the effect of the law is to empower the Shelby County negotiators who oppose merger with the poorer Memphis school system. Kyle:

“If you don’t ….do our bidding, then we will just take our bidding, then we will just take our ball and go home.”

But Senator Roy Herron, a Democrat from Dresden, postulated outcomes that could occur in counties such as Henry, where the city of Paris gets the lion’s share of sales tax revenue. Under the new bill, Paris could set up a separate school district, distancing itself from the surrounding county….

“And if they did, then it means that the citizens outside the city of Paris, who don’t have nearly the resources, who don’t have nearly the sales tax base, the commercial property tax base, those poorer sections of the county would be left with a heavy load to tote, it seems to me. “

Sen. Norris says his bill would require such upcoming city school districts to invest more tax revenue in the new plan and be approved by the state board of education.

Kyle requested a one-week delay on voting on the bill to allow the Shelby delegation to review it. Norris refused, saying there would be time to study it while the House considers the companion bill.

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