By Clay Bailey,
September 12, 2012

State Sen. Mark Norris’ speech to the Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce Tuesday dealt with the economy, his role as Senate majority leader and state funds directed to Shelby County projects. He even touched on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.   But when your name is attached to the legislation at the crux of the ongoing controversy regarding municipal schools, education has to make an appearance in the presentation.

“It’s no secret that, because of the litigation, it has been a rocky road,” Norris, R-Collierville, told chamber members at the group’s monthly meeting.

The Norris-Todd legislation from 2011 — also known as Public Chapter 1 — is the centerpiece for the argument before U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays. The County Commission and Memphis City Council are challenging laws passed this spring that allowed the suburbs to move forward with Aug. 2 referendums, when voters in all six suburbs approved referendums on forming municipal school districts.

The hearing before Mays is set to resume Sept. 20.

Norris contends that his intent in Public Chapter 1 was that municipal schools would factor into the unified system and something the Transition Planning Commission would consider in its work. He said a letter was sent to the TPC asking “for the opportunity to share in the responsibility of educating all the children. It wasn’t just for Bartlett. It wasn’t just for Collierville,” but rather for helping educate students across the county.

Norris promoted the idea of suburban schools being a benefit to everyone. He played out a scenario where after the children of suburban residents headed for college, some of those people could move into Memphis, whether in Midtown, Harbor Town or the Overton Park area.

“If you could let it work, and let this run its course, and you could allow the city of Memphis to reduce its property taxes, while folks (in the suburbs) have voted to raise theirs … you will establish an equilibrium. You will cauterize some old wounds, and the community will be better for it.”

“It’s a difficult time,” Norris concluded, “but commerce, like education, is a community affair.”

Norris also told the group that during the current fiscal year, $1.92 billion in state appropriations were headed to Shelby County — $33 million more than in the previous fiscal year.

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