By Richard Locker,
April 24, 2013

NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday signed the main bill paving the way for creation of new municipal school districts in the six Shelby County suburban cities.

House Bill 1288 repeals a 15-year-old prohibition in state law on the establishment of new municipal school systems beyond the 28 that existed in 1998 when it was enacted. Tennessee has 137 school districts — most of which are county systems and 15 special school districts that have broader taxing authority than city and county systems.

The mayors of Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington agreed Monday to ask the Shelby County Election Commission to schedule new referendums for July 16 in each of their cities on whether to establish the new school districts. If voters approve as expected — and as they did last year before the results were thrown out by a federal court ruling — elections for school board members would follow in early November, with a goal of opening schools for the 2014-15 school year.

The separate Senate Bill 1354, which the governor will also sign soon, repeals a statute that limits to six the number of school districts per county. It’s needed because the six new systems added to the unified Memphis-Shelby system would exceed the cap.

The governor said earlier that he expected to sign the two measures, both of which won legislative approval by large margins last week. HB 1288 by Rep. Curry Todd and Sen. Mark Norris, both R-Collierville, passed the House 70-24 and the Senate 24-5. SB 1354, by Norris and Rep. Ron Lollar, R-Bartlett, won 75-3 in the House and 22-5 in the Senate.

Norris said, “Governor Haslam’s timely signature on this important legislation demonstrates that he shares our commitment to neighborhood schools and parental choice. We appreciate his decisive action, and I appreciate the support of so many who have worked hard to help us remove these artificial barriers to education improvement.”

Voter approval in the referendums won’t be the final word on the new districts, which have to follow the law on the process and requirements for new school systems and be approved by the state commissioner of education.

The main bill also provides that each new city school system can begin after Aug. 1 of 2014 after the commissioner determines that:

The rights of school employees will not be “impaired, interrupted or diminished”;

There will be timely compliance with state law and state Board of Education rules;

And, the system has “general readiness” to start student instruction.

The bill further provides that the creating of “a city school system shall not impair, interrupt or diminish the rights and privileges of a then existing teacher; and such rights and privileges shall continue without impairment, interruption or diminution.”

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