Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Amid New Estimates of Increased Costs, Suburbs Vote for Referenda on Municipal Suburbs

Posted By on Wed, May 30, 2012 at 7:15 PM

Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner with press after vote
  • JB
  • Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner with press after vote

Faced with more than one set of estimates that it may cost their residents more than expected to fund new school systems, the governing boards of Shelby County’s six suburban municipalities went ahead Tuesday night and bit the bullet, voting to authorize enabling referenda on August 2.

Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Arlington, Lakeland, and Millington all approved ordinances to that end — most of them in a matter of minutes.

The reaction of Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner and the five members of the city’s Board of Aldermen may have been typical of the suburbanites’ determination to go their way, public-school-wise.

Although a decision to fund a proposed dog park at a cost of $135,000 required almost an hour’s worth of debate, and other items on Tuesday night’s agenda underwent considerable discussion, the several ordinances relating to municipal schools were disposed of as quickly as a county official could read them aloud and a vote could be taken.

Sequentially, the voting was unanimous to withdraw a holdover ordinance for a May 10 referendum which was canceled in March after an adverse ruling from the state Attorney General; to substitute an identical ordinance with the new date of August 2, in line with subsequent enabling legislation enacted in Nashville; and to approve a third ordinance establishing November 6 as the date for School Board elections.

A proviso in each of the new ordinances allowed for a change in the date in the event of litigation or other delaying circumstances.

After the vote, Alderman Tom Allen acknowledged that city officials had been advised several weeks ago, at a meeting of the mayor and aldermen with representatives of the Tennessee School Superintendents Association, that creation of “a great school system” would probably require more funding than a study by the suburbs’ consulting group, Southern Educational Strategies, had indicated.

Allen said the Collierville group were told, “Instead of using about $7800 per student, we probably ought to go to about $10,000.” But the city could begin operations without rising to that level right away, he said. “As you know, there are a lot of unknowns. And to come in and tell you it’s going to require this, it’s going to require that, nobody knows right now.”

Allen conceded that the possibility exists for a later rise in current estimates of the right property tax level. “We don’t know, to be honest with you. Anybody who tells you they do know is lying. These are unknown, uncharted waters.”

Mayor Joyner noted a state-required allocation of “the equivalent of 15 cents on the property tax,” and he said that figure, which would generate revenues of $2.1 million, would be exceeded by the city’s plan for a ½-cent sales tax increase that would rise upwards of $3 million.

“We told the residents that if we need more money, we’ll come to you for more money. Our residents have told us that they’re willing to pay what it takes. You know and I know that at some point there’ll be a tough decision to make,” Joyner said.

The Collierville chief executive said, however, that he didn’t take seriously recent estimates of suburban-school expense by Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz indicating that all of the suburbs would be put to far greater expense in creating a school system than their consultants at the Southern Educational Strategies group have indicated.

Ritz said he, too, had been apprised of the advice received by the Collierville government group at their meeting with the School Superintendents Association, and made a new calculation of increased expenses required in light of the recommended. $10,000-per-student figure.

Note: the figures below have been corrected from the previous, imperfectly transcribed version of a table forwarded by Mike Ritz:

*According to Ritz’s latest calculations for five of the suburbs, that recommended per-student figure would increase their costs as follows:
* Bartlett: current tax rate, $1.49, increase of $2.91 to allow for the $10,000-per-student figure, to a new rate of $4.40 for a 195 percent increase
*Germantown ( current rate, $1.49) would increase by $2.11 to $3.60 for a 142 percent increase.
*Collierville (current property tax rate, $1.43) would up its rate by $1.85 to $3.28, a 129 percent increase.,
*Arlington:(current rate, $1.00) would go up by $7.46 to $8.46 for a 746-percent increase.
* Millingtoncurrent $1.23 would increase by $3.93 to $5.16, for an increase of 320 percent.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"Erased Voters' Gaffe May Force Changes by Election Commission

Posted By on Sun, May 27, 2012 at 8:10 PM

Bev Harris
  • Bev Harris
Whether it’s a case of a blind squirrel finding real acorns or a maligned activist coming into her own with important revelations, new questions raised about the Shelby County Election Commission by controversial Seattle-area voting-rights activist Bev Harris may well cause serious investigations and important procedural changes.

Allegations from Harris last week that hundreds of Shelby County voters — almost all black Democrats — have had their voting history erased have put Election Commission officials on the defensive and prompted a demand from 9th District congressman Steve Cohen Sunday that the U.S. Department of Justice and Tennessee State Election Coordinator Mark Goins look into her charges.

“The ballot must remain free and open to all,” said Cohen, who had made similar requests for DOJ scrutiny following a glitch in the August 2010 countywide election that caused several hundred voters to be turned away, at least temporarily, after an erroneous early-voting list had been fed into the county’s electronic voting log.

Subsequently, a slate of losing Democratic candidates in that election filed suit to force new elections, and Harris was one of several consultants called in to aid the litigants. She helped prepare a comprehensive list of alleged irregularities but was not recognized as a proper authority by Chancellor Arnold Goldin, nor did attorneys for the plaintiffs avail themselves of her most sensational accusations, some of which imputed illegal intentions to the Election Commission. Goldin would ultimately dismiss the suit summarily.

Harris, whose Black Box Voting blog attempts to monitor election irregularities nationwide, has remained in touch with Shelby County Democrats who are appealing that decision and has stepped-up her attentions to local voting issues of late.

A month or so ago, she contacted members of the Shelby County Election Commission and the news media with a list of largely recycled allegations concerning the 2010 elections. These attracted little note, but she got everybody’s attention with her new charges last week that the prior voting history of 488 Shelby Countians, whom she listed by name, had been inexplicably erased on an Election Commission “all details” list of registered voters of a sort that is issued monthly. Almost all of the voters on the list were African American Democrats, and the absence of a voting history could make such voters legal fodder for a purge list, Harris said.

Local Democratic activists were predictably outraged, and neither Election Commission chairman Robert Meyers nor Commission executive director Rich Holden, both Republicans, had a ready explanation, though both insisted that the actual registration records on the Election Commission’s official computers contained the full election histories of all 488 voters, whose ability to vote was not endangered.

Meyers and Holden each said they welcomed an investigation by a responsible outside authority, and each acknowledged that the Commission’s current technology might be flawed and in need of replacement. “If we end up with a new system that works better, that would suit me fine,” Holden said.

Bev Harris herself eschews any ambiguity. Her send-out on the latest Election Commission irregularity is headed “CAUGHT RED HANDED” in bold caps, and she prefaces the list of Shelby Countians whose voting history she alleges to have been erased with this categorical introduction:

Four hundred and eighty-eight voters, every one of them in the Tennessee district of US Rep Steve Cohen (D-09), all but four lifelong Democrats, and nearly all Black, had their voting history erased by Shelby County election workers, setting them up for purge from the voter list.

To alter voting histories for a selected set of voters, putting them at risk for strategically selected purge, is to demean them, to treat them as if they have less worth as human beings than they do. And to demean them is to wrong them. What Shelby County's election staff has done, in altering the records, is morally wrong.

And, though one of the 488 listed voters, Cardell Orrin, is campaign manager of Cohen’s opponent in this year’s Democratic primary, Tomeka Hart, and it is at least theoretically possible that some others among the overwhelmingly African-American voters listed might be Hart voters, Harris declares unequivocally in another black, bold headline:

THE SELECTIVE PREPARATION FOR PURGE TARGETS U.S. CONGRESSMAN STEVE COHEN

Harris spells out her reasoning thusly:

Not only are almost all the altered records Democrat, not only are they almost all Black, but every single one of them is in Congressional District 09.

She proceeds further, under a heading that implies she is wise to the local ways:

POLITICAL TALK

I have heard that Cohen's seat is not considered at risk, though with redistricting and a well financed opponent, and paperless touchscreen voting machines, and selective removal of voters from his voting base, who knows?

The implication is that — Orrin and other potential Hart voters notwithstanding — the danger to the incumbent 9th District congressman lies not in his primary but in the general election, where the presumed frontrunner in the current Republican primary, George Flinn, could well be Cohen’s opponent.

Former Shelby County Commissioner Flinn, a wealthy radiologist and radio magnate who spent millions of dollars of his own money in two losing races, for Shelby County Mayor in 2002 and for the 8th District congressional seat in 2010, is undeniably “well financed,” and he and his campaign team have cited the GOP-overseen 2012 redistricting of the 9th District, shifting its contour away from East Memphis and northward toward the Tipton County line, as grounds for optimism in the general election.

Cohen’s own campaign team have pooh-poohed the prospects of Flinn (who still must overcome a Republican primary opponent, 2010 GOP nominee Charlotte Bergmann), noting that the racial and political ratios of the newly defined district are virtually the same as those of the old 9th and are overwhelmingly Democratic on what would appear to be at least a two-to-one basis.

But, as Harris says, who knows?

It would surely take more than the erasure of 488 voter histories to alter the odds, however, especially since not even Harris alleges that the designated voters are in danger of being stripped of their rights in the current election season, and Election Commission chairman Robert Meyers notes that their presence on the “details” list is an ipso facto guarantee that they are good to go at the polls for 2012.

Harris has this point covered, however:

I have also heard that the most astute political strategists focus on changing not just the weather (short term election results), but the climate (long term voting environment).

At any rate, it doesn't matter what Cohen's chances are. The rights that were violated are those of Shelby County VOTERS, who have a right to vote for the candidate of their choice, and who are entitled to accurate records.

She is surely correct in saying that, and, on this subject of “accurate records,” a pair of questions come to mind:

*Are the 488 people on her list the only voters whose voting history has allegedly been erased?

*She cites Darrick Harris, a well-known local Democratic activist, as the source of the list, but in her broadside does not spell out how Darrick Harris (no relation, btw) came by his list or how it was culled, or precisely in what way it may have been refined from a raw Election Commission source.

Contacted about the matter, Darrick Harris said that Bev Harris had assembled the list from lengthier voter-registration data he had supplied her at intervals since 2010 when the two of them were in frequent contact regarding challenges to the August 2010 election results.

“This is nothing new. I’m not even all that up in arms about it, all by itself,” Harris said, relating the current issue to a series of gaffes that he says have bedeviled the last several elections in Shelby County, usually to the disadvantage of Democrats. He shies away from accusing anyone of intentional illegality (though reserving judgment on the matter) and suggests that factors of incompetent administration and malfunctioning technology are involved.

And the real root of the problem he imputes to Republican aggressiveness in purging the voter rolls, something that coincides with the GOP’s wish, evident also in the passage of photo-ID legislation, to prune away at the Democratic voter base.

Given the residual misgivings of local Democrats about election results in recent years (“there’s been something going wrong with every election since 2006,” alleges Darrick Harris), the sensitivity of this year’s voting choices (on everything from county offices to suburban school districts to the presidency), and an apparent acknowledgment on everybody’s part that some retooling is in order for the county’s election processes, it is unlikely that the current issue will just fade away.

Holden and Meyers noted that the members of their IT staff had largely dispersed for the Memorial Day weekend but would be back on duty by Tuesday. At which time they may have some ‘splaining to do.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Chumney Gets Party Boost in D.A.'s Race

Posted By on Fri, May 25, 2012 at 12:24 PM

Turner and Chumney at press conference
  • JB
  • Turner and Chumney at press conference

In an effort to jump-start the campaign of Carol Chumney , Democratic nominee for District Attorney General, she and local Democratic chairman Van Turner held a joint press conference Thursday at the party’s new “resource center” on Poplar Avenue. As the chairman noted, it was the first press conference to be held there since the headquarters opened earlier this month.

Turner kicked things off by stating, “We called this press conference to sort of clear up some things that were recently said,” referencing a recent opinion column in the Commercial Appeal by Otis Sanford questioning both’s Chumney level of campaigning and the party’s commitment to her candidacy.

As Sanford had noted, Chumney’s Republican opponent, incumbent D.A. Amy Weirich, has raised a considerable campaign warchest and has been highly active on the stump, whereas Chumney had so far been less visible and has lagged far behind in fundraising.

Turner thereupon issued an unequivocal statement of support for Chumney, extolling her “25 years of legal experience,” such credentials as her having bee editor-in-chief of the University of Memp his Law Review, and her “17 years of public experience” as state legislator and City Council member.

As she herself would do, Turner noted Chumney’s longtime chairmanship of the legislative Children and Family Affairs Committee and said that experience was good preparation for dealing with the shortcomings in the operation of Juvenile Court that were recently publicized in a U.S. Department of Justice report.

Asked to what extent she held General Weirich responsible for Juvenile Court’s problems, including administrative foul-ups and alleged “race-based” procedures, Chumney noted that the DOJ study, requested by Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks, was commissioned in 2007 and documented problems “that were still there in 2010 and 2011.” Weirich was an assistant D.A. for years before being named to the top job in early 2011.

In addition to the usefulness of her experience with the Children and Family Affairs Committee, Chumney said she would also profit as D.A. from having enjoyed a good working relationship with current Juvenile Court Judge Curtis Person when both were in the legislature. In the DOJ report Person was credited with having initiated some reforms in the Court’s processes.

Chumney acknowledged that she would probably be unable to match Weirich’s campaqign expenditures butr said, “I have devorted my life to public service. I think that the people who have voted for me in the past will show up again. I am not soliciting special interest money.”

Unspoken to by either Turner or Chumney was the fact that several prominent Democrats, including City Council members Jim Strickland and Shea Flinn, businessman Karl Schledwitz, and lawyer/lobbyist John Farris are declared supporters of Weirich. Strickland and Farris are both former Democratic chairs. Schledwitz said this week he made his commitment to Weirich at a time when she was the only active candidate.

Cohen Responds to Outcry on Delta Fares, Lays Out Options

Posted By on Fri, May 25, 2012 at 9:53 AM

Cohen at press conference on Delta fares
  • JB
  • Cohen at press conference on Delta fares

9th District Congressman Steve Cohen responded to a growing outcry against high passenger fares for Delta Airlines’ Memphis-originated flights with a press conference at his Overton Park-area residence Thursday, and, like most commentators on the issue, pinpointed competition as the solution.

Cohen told a group of reporters that he had expressed his concerns about the high travel fares in fresh dialogue with Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta, which operates what amounts to a “fortress hub” in Memphis as a consequence of that airline’s merger with Northwest, previously the city’s hub airline.

The congressman said he had also asked his staff to research anti-trust statutes for possible clues to action and was considering holding local hearings on the matter. Scheduling hearings in Washington would be more difficult, said Cohen, a member of the House Transportation Committee and its aviation subcommittee. “

The Republican majority controls hearings in Washington,” he said, and the same majority was unlikely to be friendly to the idea of imposing new regulations on an industry that was deregulated some three decades ago.

“It all comes through competition,” said Cohen, who characterized himself as an early activist ion behalf of a local presence for Southwest Airlines, the well-known budget airline whose flights emanating from Little Rock and Nashville have traditionally been fallback options for cost-conscious Memphis passengers willing to drive to those cities.

But the congressman thought it was unlikely that Southwest would materialize in Memphis in the near future with an operation on the same scale. Southwest is already scheduled to take over the local budget operations of Air Tran, another low-budget airline, but even that “is going to take a while,” Cohen said.

In the meantime, there are options like USAir, whose Memphis-to-Washington connections Cohen said he availed himself of twice recently. “It’s a smaller, cheaper competition that works.”

Among the causes of the high-rate problem here are the fact of deregulation and the recent rise in fuel prices, according to Cohen, who said he thought Delta had miscalculated in imposing a cutback on its Memphis-originated flights, the other issue besides high rates that Memphians have reacted to. “That was a mistake, because this is a low-cost airport,” the congressman said.

Of his own efforts on behalf of Memphis airline customers, Cohen said, “I was on this subject long before Debbie did Memphis or Delta did Atlanta or whatever….I was there.”

That was a clear reference to criticism aimed at the congressman by contributors to the Facebook site “Delta Does Memphis,” operated by Memphis blogger Tom Jones as a means of organizing resistance to Delta’s local pricing policies.

Among the congressman’s critics on the site has been his opponent in the 9th District Democratic primary on August 2, Tomeka Hart, who in a recent post said,”It's disappointing that we haven't heard more about this from our current Congressman….” Cohen said someone else connected with the site had tweeted that he had not wanted to get involved in the Delta situation. “That’s a lie,” he said. Asked if the criticism was politically motivated, he said, “Of course, it is.”

Cohen noted that he himself is now a “Friend” on the site and has made several posts in opposition to Delta’s policies. The congressman said intervention by local business leaders would be the most effective message to Delta officials.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Single-Member Redistricting Plan Picks Up Steam on Commission

Posted By on Mon, May 21, 2012 at 10:12 AM

Taylor would be 9th vote for 2-J if needed.
  • JB
  • Taylor would be 9th vote for 2-J if needed.

UPDATE: On the second reading, Brent Taylor voted 'No.' Presumably his commitment, noted in article, to be Number 9 in the case of 8 votes applied only to the third reading.

As the Shelby County Commission convenes on Monday for its regular biweekly public meeting, one of the issues which has bedeviled it for many months now will probably get a virtually free pass. This would be a resolution on behalf of redistricting plan 2-J, which would divide Shelby County into 13 single-member County Commission districts.

A resolution on behalf of the plan was re-introduced this month by Commissioner Terry Roland, who argued that it, more than any other redistricting plan discussed by the Commission, was likely to pass muster with Chancellor Arnold Goldin, who has the responsibility for adjudicating what has been a months-long deadlock on the Commission regarding redistricting.

That being the case, said Roland, the Commission should go ahead and give the plan the 9-vote super-majority required for a redistricting plan by the county charter. Otherwise, he said, Goldin might approve 2-J on the basis of its having gained 7 votes on its third and final reading during the plan’s first run-through earlier this year.

And that, argued Roland, might involve a ruling by Goldin underscoring the primacy of state law, which calls for only a simple majority to resolve redistricting disputes, over the county charter. The Millington commissioner warned that such a ruling might endanger the charter’s provision for a supermajority on other issues, notably on raising taxes above a certain level.

So far, Roland’s argument seems to have carried the day. On the first reading of his new resolution for 2-J two weeks ago, he got 9 votes – including those of Chris Thomas and Wyatt Bunker, fellow Republicans who had been holding out for a multi-member redistricting plan which would essentially be an update of the present system.

In a speech to the ultra-conservative Dutch Treat Luncheon group on Saturday, GOP commissioner Brent Taylor, another advocate of multi-member districts, added his conditional approval of Roland’s reasoning, and, while Taylor regards 2-J as “a bad plan for Republicans,” he promised to vote for it himself if it appeared the plan had 8 votes already.

Meanwhile, both of the aspirants for the District 1, Position 3 seat now held by Taylor on an interim appointive basis, have indicated their support for 2-J. Republican nominee Steve Basar said Sunday at a fundraiser in his honor at the Germantown home of John and Sue Williams said he “could accept Plan 2-J as a basis for redistricting,” and Democratic nominee Steve Ross has filed suit on the plan’s behalf.

The issue is in Chancellor Goldin’s court because three members of the Commission — Roland, Mike Ritz, and Walter Bailey — sued for a court ruling when the Commission was deadlocked on redistricting when the year-end deadline was reached without a finished plan. Roland and Ritz have since withdrawn from the suit, but Bailey remains, keeping that action, along with Ross’, active.

Goldin has indicated he wants the Commission itself to resolve the redistricting issue, if at all possible. After today’s vote, there will be one more reading, a final one, and 9 votes for 2-J on that occasion would complete the redistricting process without need of a court ruling.

GOP candidate Basar, here at Sunday fundraiser with hosts John and Sue Williams, adds his support to 2-J. Democratic opponent Steve Ross also endorses plan.
  • jb
  • GOP candidate Basar, here at Sunday fundraiser with hosts John and Sue Williams, adds his support to 2-J. Democratic opponent Steve Ross also endorses plan.

Pickler Says Opponent Presents "Mixed Message" on Suburban Schools

Posted By on Mon, May 21, 2012 at 9:45 AM

Pickler at Tanner Pavelion in Germantown on Sunday
  • JB
  • Pickler at Tanner Pavelion in Germantown on Sunday

Given the dimensions of the ongoing controversy over city/county school merger, it was doubtless inevitable that it should spark a flame or two in individual races for the seven positions on the Unified School Board.

It did on Sunday, as David Pickler, candidate for District Five (Germantown, Collierville) seemed to question the bona fides of opponent Kim Wirth.

At a fundraiser/meet-and-greet at the Tanner Pavilion on the Germantown Horse Show grounds, Pickler made it clear to a group of supporters that he regards his mission, if elected, to continue on what he calls a 15-year quest on behalf of “independent, autonomous schools in suburban Shelby County.”

Although Pickler consistently sought independent school-district status for Shelby County Schools when he served several consecutive terms as SCS board chairman, he has been more equivocal about the issue as a member of both the 23-member interim United School Board and the 21-member Transition Planning Commission.

And in an interview after his remarks at the meet-and-greet, Pickler expressed doubt that his support for municipal schools could be matched by Kim Wirth, his opponent for the District 5 (Germantown-Collierville) seat on the Unified Board.

Said Pickler: “I think that my opponent is a fine lady, and I appreciate the fact that she’s engaged the community. One concern I have is why she would choose to have her campaign be managed by the same group that was promoting the governmental consolidation Brian Stephens was the co-chair for the Rebuild Government initiative, and when you’re trying to represent an area, when you’re offering to represent an area that was adamantly opposed to the governmental consolidation and you have chosen to align with a group that was adamantly in favor of governmental consolidation, then to me that sends a mixed message. And it makes me question whether or not her new-found support of municipal districts is a message of expediency as opposed to a heartfelt and abiding belief.’

Asked about Pickler’s comments, Stephens, the co-founder of the 2010 project Rebuild Government, which researched city/county consolidation and ultimately endorsed it and currently CEO of Caissa Public Strategies, a public relations firm, responded that Pickler’s comments “sound divisive,” and said, “We’re not managing her campaign. But we do public relations, and we do have customers. We did produce one piece of literature for her. So, technically, she is a client.”

Stephens also pointed out that Rebuild Government had excluded school consolidation from its endorsement of governmental consolidation and that the proposed charter it supported in the 2010 referendum had expressly called for an independent binding vote by suburban residents on any future proposal for school consolidation.

Pickler had also noted the fact that Wirth’s primary educational focus has so far been on Memphis City Schools rather than on the pre-existing Shelby County Schools system. Wirth has served as chairman of the board of the Memphis City Schools Foundation and as a liaison with the Gates Foundation on the MCS Teacher Effectiveness Initiative. She also has been affiliated with the SCORE organization (State Collaborative on Reforming Education) established by former U.S. Senator Bill Frist.

Wirth could not be reached for comment on Monday morning, but, at a forum held last week by the Collierville Republican Club, she and Pickler expressed agreement on most issues regarding the current school-merger issue. She specifically backed Shelby County’s six municipal suburbs wish to establish their own independent school districts and said that existing school buildings should be transferred to them without cost and that municipal districts should be allowed to enroll students in adjacent unincorporated areas of Shelby County.

In an emailed response received by the Flyer late Monday, Wirth responded to Pickler's allegations with a statement, which reads in part:

...My campaign is managed by Aleesa Blum, a retired executive from International Paper and one with experience running political campaigns. Brian Stephens is one of many vendors I have and he helped me with a communication piece.

So we are clear, I have had children in Shelby County Schools since 2004, and I am proud of the work I have done as a parent volunteer and PTA board member in my children's school. Through my role as the Executive Director of International Paper's Foundation, I have partnered with the Shelby County Schools Foundation and a number of schools directly providing thousands of dollars in support of literacy, environmental education programs and as sponsor of the annual Race for Education event.

I am also proud of my involvement with the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Sen. Frist's SCORE organization. These experiences have only increased my commitment to all Shelby County students and provides a clear choice for voters.....

Friday, May 18, 2012

District 5 Candidates for Unified School Board Concur on Support for Municipal Districts

Posted By on Fri, May 18, 2012 at 5:25 PM

Pickler and Wirth in Collierville
  • JB
  • Pickler and Wirth in Collierville

A debate of sorts Tuesday night between David Pickler and Kim Wirth, candidates for the Unified School Board for District 5, made one thing clear: Whoever wins that seat, representing the Germantown-Collierville area, will owe their primary allegiance to the prospective municipal districts there, not to the Unified District itself."

The joint appearance of the two candidates was at La Hacienda Restaurant on West Poplar under the auspices of the Collierville Republican Club.

Asked point blank if they favored establishment of municipal school districts in Germantown and Collierville, both Pickler, the longtime former chairman of the old Shelby County Schools board, and Wirth, a communications executive with International Paper, answered “Yes,” categorically.

Both also professed concern for education throughout Shelby County, and, if elected, pledged to work, as Wirth put it, “as good neighbors toward the goal of great education for all or kids.” But both saw their first duty as being owed to the as yet unformed municipal school districts of Germantown and Collierville.

And each was at pains to advance an even narrower focus. Wirth, who has served as chairman of the board of the Memphis City Schools Foundation and has worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on behalf of the MCS Teacher Effectiveness Program, said she would put her experience to work in a “good faith” effort to insure that the transfer of school buildings from the jurisdiction of the Unified School Board of Shelby County to the municipal districts would be both free and painless.

Pickler also stressed the importance of making over the buildings “without compensation,” contending that in numerous instances in the past that was how schools had passed from the jurisdiction of Shelby County Schools to that of Memphis City Schools, “though we [i.e., county taxpayers] had paid for them.”

He made the case for a concept of “shared services” whereby the Unified School District would bear the responsibility for such functions as transportation, nutrition, and special education and make these services available for schools within municipal districts as well as for those remaining within the Unified School District itself. (One of the points emphasized by Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz in a report made to the Commission Wednesday on likely expenses of new municipal districts concerned the significant add-on cost of such services, if incumbent upon the new districts themselves.)

Both candidates agreed that when the municipal districts are formed the schools within them should be allowed to enroll students living in adjacent unincorporated areas of Shelby County. Both agreed, too, that outlying areas of Shelby County should continue to be represented on the Unified Shelby County School Board even after municipal school districts are formed within those areas.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ritz Survey Says School Consultants Low-balled Costs for New Municipal School Districts

Posted By on Wed, May 16, 2012 at 1:40 PM

Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz - JB
  • JB
  • Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz

In a study prepared for presentation to the Shelby County Commission’s education committee on Wednesday, District 1 Commissioner Mike Ritz, a Germantown Republican, offered some sobering fiscal warnings to suburbanites considering the establishment of municipal school districts for their communities.

Applying what he termed a “brutally conservative” approach, Ritz, whose background is in investment banking, essentially found fault with what he regards as over-rosy financial projections from Southern Educational Strategies, the local consulting group which has offered advice to six Shelby County suburban cities – Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Lakeland, and Arlington.

All these communities intend to hold referenda in August to gain voter approval for municipal schol districts.

Among Ritz’s findings:

*Significant employee expenses – notably OPEBs (Other Post-Employment Benefits) – were overlooked in the SES estimates. Should the six suburban communities establish independent school districts, those expenses would cease to be obligations of the Shelby County Unified System and become liabilities for the suburban communities.

*The prospect of having to ”level up” on teacher salaries, so as to make those in the suburban systems comparable to the pay-scale of the Unified System, was also overlooked in the SES estimates.

*Also overlooked by SES were costs associated with providing for students with special education needs. Says Ritz: At a cost-per-student of up to $100,000 annually, these costs must be borne by the municipalities. “There are no BEP or County funds for these purposes.”

*Expenses associated with the acquisition of school buildings from the Unified District and with add-on per-pupil expenditures for students living outside the municipalities’ limits will be significantly in excess of the SES estimates, especially factoring in inflationary costs. In the case of some of the suburban communities, e.g., Arlington and Lakeland, these unanticipated expenses could be prohibitive – requiring, in the case of Arlington, a four-fold increase in that city’s property tax rate.

*Moreover, contends Ritz, the establishment of municipal school districts could necessitate the construction of new facilities “to educate students from an unincorporated area,’ and the capital cost of these buildings “will fall on all Shelby County taxpayers.”

Ritz's complete survey reads as follows:

FISCAL ISSUES CONCERNING PROPOSED MUNICIPAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS

May 14, 2012

-Mike Ritz, Budget Committee Chairman, Shelby County Commission

My observations and findings concerning the fiscal issues facing the proposed municipal school districts are based on my reading and understanding of (a) the separate reports presented by Southern Educational Strategies, LLC (SES) to each suburban government in early 2012 and (b) the ‘District-Wide Facility Usage and the Student Enrollment Within Unincorporated Shelby County’ report and ‘Student Place of Residence and School of Attendance’ spreadsheet presented to the Shelby County Board of Education March 20, 2012. Upon completion of the attached spreadsheet, ‘Fiscal Analysis of Various Municipal School District Data from the Separate Reports (Dated Early 2012) and The Student Place of Residence and School of Attendance spreadsheet prepared by Shelby County School Planning Department Revised 3-14-2012’, I prepared this report. Please note that I used the Shelby County School System average per student expenditure in my spreadsheet as a minimum expectation of expenditures per student. If I had used the State-wide, All County, or City and SSD average per student funding, the potential fiscal impact on each of the suburbs would have been considerably more. While some observations are common for several of the suburbs, very few apply to all suburbs. My findings are presented for each suburb.

My approach was to be ‘brutally conservative.’ It will be very difficult politically to turn back the creation of a municipal school district once it is in place. Any error in the SES calculations that misses or understates the actual and necessary costs for a municipal school district will fall 100% on the taxpayers of the municipal school district. Thus a very careful approach is necessary.

SES did not project the cost of the “Other Post-Employment Benefits” (OPEB) for their teachers and other staff. OPEB includes the school system’s costs of health and life insurance for retirees. The OPEB benefits are not part of the retirement pay from the state retirement system that Shelby County teachers expect. These OPEB costs have until recently been ignored and unfunded by both of the local school boards. Recent changes in governmental accounting standards require their annual financial reports or audits to calculate these unfunded liabilities. The unfunded OPEB liabilities of the two school systems as of June 30, 2011 was $1,503,097,723. The ultimate funding responsibility of the two system’s unfunded OPEB liabilities lies with Shelby County Government. Any reduction of teachers and staff employed by the Unified Shelby County School System will cause a reduction in the Unified System’s unfunded OPEB liabilities. Teachers and staff hired by the municipal school systems will expect some health and life insurance benefits in retirement. The ultimate fiscal responsibility of OPEB for their retired teachers and staff will be the respective suburban government. These costs were not included in the SES reports.

Another cost not included in the SES reports was the cost of ‘leveling up’ the teacher compensation of Shelby County School System to the salaries of the Memphis City Schools. State law requires ‘leveling up’ when 2 systems are merged. If the municipal school systems have to match a Shelby County teachers’ salary to recruit them, the FY 2014 or later salaries for the municipal district’s teachers will be higher than noted in the SES reports.

A third cost not included is the cost of special education needs students. It is not unusual to have a school age child who needs special assistance or equipment to learn which cost $100,000 annually. Each municipal school district will have to pay for those needs. There are no BEP or County funds for those purposes.



BARTLETT. Bartlett has the largest number,11, of the Shelby County Schools (SCS) buildings and 7837 Bartlett residing students now attend SCS schools. 6178 of the 8805 students attending SCS schools in Bartlett live in Bartlett. The remaining 1659 Bartlett residing students attend Arlington HS (466), and Bolton HS (1118), and other SCS schools. SES proposed the largest municipal school district for Bartlett with 9029 students, a system 15% larger than the number of Bartlett residing students. While the minimum state requirement of 15 cents of local property tax support for their municipal school system would produce the budgeted $1,650,525, the proposed 0.5 percent sales tax increase would produce $3,625,000 which is more than twice the minimal amount needed. However, if Bartlett (a) spends the average of FY 2011 SCS funding for their municipal system to start up in FY 2013 or later, (b) pays 50% of the cost of new schools for the 11 schools in their city, and (c) increase school operation costs 10% for inflation, greater expectations or needs than SES budgeted, then they will need a $1.36 property tax increase, a 91% increase over their current tax rate of $1.49. The annual cost to buy their 11 schools is 27% of the total of the three defined cost of this analysis (the Total SES Shortfall plus 10% Cost of Higher Needs and Expectations plus Annual cost of Schools Purchase). It might be expected that Bartlett municipal school district would want to build a new high school (or expand Bartlett HS) for the 1584 Bartlett residing students attending high schools outside Bartlett which would be an additional capital expense. Added to these potential additional property taxes can be some amount for OPEB benefits for their initial 886 teachers and staff, special education needs children, and the costs of matching the ‘leveled up’ teacher compensation.



GERMANTOWN. Germantown has 8 of the Shelby County Schools (SCS) buildings and 4585 Germantown residing students now attend SCS schools. 8579 students attend SCS schools in Germantown. Only 38 Germantown residing students attend schools outside Germantown. Of the 4032 non-resident students attending the 8 schools in Germantown, 2799 live in unincorporated Shelby County and 1067 live in Collierville. SES proposed a municipal school district for Germantown with 8142 students, a system 76% larger than the number of Germantown residing students. While the minimum state requirement of 15 cents of local property tax support for their municipal school system would produce the budgeted $2,100,000, the proposed 0.5 percent sales tax increase would produce $2,419,979 or $319,979 more than minimally needed. However, if Germantown (a) spends the average of FY 2011 SCS funding for their municipal system to start up in FY 2013 or later, (b) pays 50% of the cost of new schools for the 8 schools in their city, and (c) increase school operation costs 10% for inflation, greater expectations or needs than SES budgeted, then they will need a $1.06 property tax increase, a 71% increase over their current tax rate of $1.485. The annual cost to buy their 8 schools is 26% of the total of the three defined cost of this analysis (the Total SES Shortfall plus 10% Cost of Higher Needs and Expectations plus Annual cost of Schools Purchase). Obviously if Germantown would propose a system more aligned to the number of students residing in Germantown, the fiscal impact on their residents could be substantially lessened. Germantown has annexed all of its annexation reserve areas. Taking greater fiscal risk for students who don’t and won’t live in Germantown does not appear to be a conservative fiscal policy. Added to these potential additional property taxes can be some amount for OPEB benefits for their initial 777 teachers and staff, special education needs children, and the costs of matching the ‘leveled up’ teacher compensation.



COLLIERVILLE. Collierville has 8 of the Shelby County Schools (SCS) buildings and 8314 Collierville residing students now attend SCS schools. 7780 students attend SCS schools in Collierville. 1072 Collierville residing students attend schools outside Collierville with 1067 attending schools in Germantown with 754 and 204 at Houston High and Middle, respectively. Of the 7780 students attending schools in Collierville, 7229 live in Collierville and 456 live in unincorporated Shelby County. SES proposed a municipal school district for Collierville with 7591 students, a system for 91% of Collierville residing students. While the minimum state requirement of 15 cents of local property tax support for their municipal school system would produce the budgeted $2,100,000, the proposed 0.5 percent sales tax increase would produce $3,908,858 or $1,731,893 more than minimally needed. However, if Collierville (a) spends the average of FY 2011 SCS funding for their municipal system to start up in FY 2013 or later, (b) pays 50% of the cost of new schools for the 8 schools in their city, and (c) increase school operation costs 10% for inflation, greater expectations or needs than SES budgeted, then they will need a $0.84 property tax increase, a 59% increase over their current tax rate of $1.43. The annual cost to buy their 8 schools is 25% of the total of the three defined cost of this analysis (the Total SES Shortfall plus 10% Cost of Higher Needs and Expectations plus Annual cost of Schools Purchase). Added to these potential additional property taxes can be some amount for OPEB benefits for their initial 745 teachers and staff, special education needs children, and the costs of matching the ‘leveled up’ teacher compensation.



ARLINGTON. Arlington has 4 of the Shelby County Schools (SCS) buildings and 2827 Arlington residing students now attend SCS schools. 5028 students attend SCS schools in Arlington. Only 22 Arlington residing students attend schools outside Arlington. Of the 5028 students in Arlington schools, 2787 live in Arlington, 484 live in Bartlett, 1111 live in Lakeland, and 559 live in unincorporated Shelby County. SES proposed a municipal school district for Arlington with 4887 students, a system 73% larger than the number of Arlington residing students. While the minimum state requirement of 15 cents of local property tax support for their municipal school system would produce $406,134, the proposed 0.5 percent sales tax increase would produce only $349,685 or $56,449 less than minimally needed amount. Arlington and Lakeland are the only two suburbs where the proposed 0.5 percent sales tax increase produces less than the minimum 15 cent property tax increase. Moreover, if Arlington (a) spends the average of FY 2011 SCS funding for their municipal system to start up in FY 2013 or later, (b) pays 50% of the cost of new schools for the 4 schools in their city, and (c) increase school operation costs 10% for inflation, greater expectations or needs than SES budgeted, then they will need a $3.91 property tax increase, a 391% increase over their current tax rate of $1.00. The annual cost to buy their 4 schools is 20% of the total of the three defined cost of this analysis (the Total SES Shortfall plus 10% Cost of Higher Needs and Expectations plus Annual cost of Schools Purchase).Obviously if Arlington would propose a system more aligned to the number of students residing in Arlington, the fiscal impact on their residents could be substantially lessened. It may be a very long time before Arlington annexes the areas of unincorporated Shelby County where some of their students may reside. It does not make conservative fiscal sense to take the greater fiscal risk for those children or the students from Bartlett and/or Lakeland. Added to these potential additional property taxes can be some amount for OPEB benefits for their initial 456 teachers and staff, special education needs children, and the costs of matching the ‘leveled up’ teacher compensation.



MILLINGTON. Millington has 5 of the Shelby County Schools (SCS) buildings and 1564 Millington residing students now attend SCS schools. 3421 students attend SCS schools in Millington. Only 6 Millington residing students attend schools outside Millington. Of the 3421 students in Millington schools, 1437 live in unincorporated Shelby County. SES proposed a municipal school Millington residing students. SES recommended Millington annex the Lucy community annexation reserve area to reach the minimum state requirement for new municipal school districts to assure 1500 students in the schools or at least 2000 students presently enrolled. While the minimum state requirement of 15 cents of local property tax support for their municipal school system would produce $253,515, the proposed 0.5 percent sales tax increase would produce $1,386,290 or $1,132,775 more than minimally needed. However, if Millington only spends the average of FY 2011 SCS funding for their municipal system to start up in FY 2013 or later, but however (a) pays 50% of the cost of new schools for 4 of the 5 schools in their city, and (b) needs to increase school operation costs 10% for inflation, greater expectations or needs than SES budgeted, then they will need a $1.28 property tax increase, a 104% increase over their current tax rate of $1.23. The annual cost to buy 4 of their 5 schools is 64% of the total of the three defined cost of this analysis (the Total SES Shortfall plus 10% Cost of Higher Needs and Expectations plus Annual cost of Schools Purchase). If Millington would propose a municipal school system size closer to the minimum state requirement, the fiscal impact on their residents could be substantially lessened. Added to these potential additional property taxes can be some amount for OPEB benefits for their initial 246.5 teachers and staff, special education needs children, and the costs of matching the ‘leveled up’ teacher compensation.



LAKELAND. Lakeland has only 1 of the Shelby County Schools (SCS) buildings and 2204 Lakeland residing students now attend SCS schools. Only 831 students attend the SCS school in Lakeland. Of the 2204 Lakeland residing students, 111 attend Arlington located schools, 240 attend Bartlett schools, and 788 attend the single Arlington school. Of the 831 students in Lakeland ES, 19 live in Bartlett and 10 live in unincorporated Shelby County. SES proposed a single school municipal school district for Lakeland with 819 students, a system big enough for only 37% of Lakeland residing students. While the minimum state requirement of 15 cents of local property tax support for their municipal school system would produce $491,460, the proposed 0.5 percent sales tax increase would produce only $329,631 or $161,829 less than minimally needed. Lakeland and Arlington are the only two suburbs where the proposed 0.5 percent sales tax increase produces less than the minimum 15 cent property tax increase. Moreover, if Lakeland only spends only the average of FY 2011 SCS funding for their municipal system to start up in FY 2013 or later, but however pays (a) 50% of the cost of new schools for the single school in their city, and (b) needs to increase school operation costs 10% for inflation, greater expectations or needs than SES budgeted, then they will need a $0.34 property tax. Lakeland currently does not have a property tax. The annual cost to buy their 1 school is 34% of the total of the three defined cost of this analysis (the Total SES Shortfall plus 10% Cost of Higher Needs and Expectations plus Annual cost of Schools Purchase). If Lakeland decides to also have a property taxes over and above the 34 cent increase noted above. Added to these potential additional property taxes can be some amount for OPEB benefits for their initial 94 teachers and staff, special education needs children, and the costs of matching the ‘leveled up’ teacher compensation.



FISCAL IMPACT ON SHELBY COUNTY GOVERNMENT OF THE MUNICIPAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS.

There are several observation, albeit general and non specific, that should be noted.

1.If the Shelby County School Board does not allow a municipal school district to educate students from an unincorporated area, those students will stay in the Shelby County system and will need school buildings to house them. Many of the unincorporated students now attend schools in a suburb. If a municipal district acquires (buy, lease, or gift) the schools in their respective suburb, then the capital cost of new buildings for the unincorporated children will fall on all Shelby County taxpayers via Shelby County’s obligation to provide the capital funds for the Shelby County Schools.

2.Per 1 above and If the municipal districts have to pay to buy or lease the public schools in the suburbs, then that consideration could be used by Shelby County Schools to build the schools they may need for the unincorporated students. These funds would offset a requirement for Shelby County taxpayers to pay debt service on new bonds to replace the schools in the suburbs.

3. Creation of municipal school districts will reduce the teachers and staff of the Shelby County Schools which will in turn reduce the unfunded OPEB obligations of the Shelby County Schools.

Ritz spreadsheet
  • Ritz spreadsheet

Sunday, May 13, 2012

On This Unnecessary Quarrel About Merger Comments

Posted By on Sun, May 13, 2012 at 8:23 PM

First_Amendment.jpg
And I thought the Grizzlies-Clippers game, to which in a hopeful mood I took three of my adult offspring on Sunday, was something dismaying.

But that doesn’t touch this whole development regarding comments appended to articles, and people wanting to ban each other’s comments and bugging Flyer editor Bruce van Wyngarden about it and his reacting in ways that I think, upon reflection, he’ll have second thoughts about – nay, seems to acknowledge already having second thoughts about, if I read him right.

But perhaps not. I will leave such second thoughts, if there be any, to him. The one thing I won’t do is second-guess him or any other colleague, any more than I would appreciate being second-guessed in my turn.

But one thing I want to reiterate as strongly as I possibly can. The issue of school merger in Shelby County is now, as it was at the end of 2010 when it came out of nowhere, the most significant circumstance facing those of us who live in this larger community. As such, it is still the biggest news item going.

How could it not be? It involves politics, education, commerce, society at large – all in very large ways. And to turn one’s back on it, either as newsperson or as citizen, would be irresponsible in the extreme.Yes, I too get annoyed at some of the turns taken by commenters -- to Flyer items, to CA items, to TV stories,to each other, whatever.

But I understand their passion, even their exhibitionism. From time to time one of the commenters even comes up with a real nugget of insight or information.

Two things I can assure you of.

One is, I don’t write news items or analytical pieces about the merger issue or any other subject –nor does John Branston or any other colleague or news competitor — in order to throw these folks any red meat. It’s rhe subject itself that arouses them, for good reasons, bad reasons and everything in between. Tired of it all? Blame the subject, and the never-ending incidents and major developments – many, many of them crucially important – that accrue to the subject.

Believe me, if we in the news business didn’t make an effort to try to keep up with this story, and to separate the wheat from the chaff, the essential from the inessential, the reality from the deceits, etc., etc., we – the whole community – would really be up a creek. I appreciate the compliments paid me and John, but all we’re doing is doing our job.

Parenthetically, Bruce, I do know this for a fact (and no, I’m not guessing): If we at the Flyer flagged even slightly in our coverage, our friends on Union Avenue, who also are doing their conscientious best to stay up with the story (and, yes, with us, as we with them) would shout hallelujahs and light cigars.

The other thing is I’m certain of is this: There is no law nor coercive power that can make anyone read a line of a news article in the Flyer or CA or anywhere else, nor can anyone be forced to read a jot or a tittle composed by any commenter.

We have articles on all kinds of subjects, thanks be to God (as well as to the First Amendment), and people are free to comment on any and all of them. Or to disregard them. At no offense to me, I can assure you.

It’s a free country.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Tomeka Hart Opens Headquarters, Slams Cohen as Not "Local" Enough

Posted By on Fri, May 11, 2012 at 11:26 AM

Tomeka Hart at headquarters opening
  • JB
  • Tomeka Hart at headquarters opening

Vowing to run hard against “two millionaires, actual millionaires, one in the primary, one in the general election,” 9th District congressional candidate Tomeka Hart opened up her headquarters in Chickasaw Crossing on Poplar Thursday night.

Addressing a group of supporters drawn heavily from the ranks of New Path, the activist group that gave her a start in politics by boosting her for the Memphis City Schools board in 2004, Democrat Hart promised to focus on local issues in a way that she said the incumbent Democrat, Steve Cohen, has not.

Hart even managed to turn a supporter’s suggestion that she might have considered running for mayor or the City Council first into a slam against Cohen. “I get that a lot,” she said, contending that such advice reflects a sense in the district that the current congressman is “not about local issues, but all about national politics....That seat should be completely about what’s going on in Memphis.”

Having reviewed her role as a prime mover on the MCS board in 2010 for the charter surrender that forced the ongoing city/county school merger, Hart said she had asked Cohen for aid and support of the merger movement but had been turned down. “The response was he wasn’t getting involved in local issues,” Hart said.

The reference to “two millionaires” was Hart’s way of designating Cohen, whose political war chest is known to be in the neighborhood of $1 million, and George Flinn, the wealthy radiologist/radio magnate who is a candidate for the 9th District seat in the Republican primary.

“I represent the future of Memphis,” Hart said. “Forget what you might hear. We’re in this.” As evidence, she noted her decision, announced this week, to take temporary leave of her job as head of Memphis' Urban League chapter.

Acknowledging her relative lack of fundraising success so far, Hart said, “Pundits want to see how much money you’ve got in the bank, and then they write you off. If it was about money, I wouldn’t be out there, ‘cause we knew in April I wouldn’t have money, right? If it was about money, I’d have been gone a long time ago. But it’s about work.”

Although Hart, an African American, made no direct appeals to the 9th District’s majority black population, she did note that blacks in the district were “three times more likely than whites” to be in the poverty bracket and said, “What’s far more powerful than money is a vote. Poor people should be the most powerful.”

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hart Arrest, New Norris Bill Highlight TPC Quandary

Posted By on Wed, May 9, 2012 at 8:02 AM

Tommy Hart during TPC deliberations
  • JB
  • Tommy Hart during TPC deliberations

The work of the Transition Planning Commission, going forward, is bound to be affected somewhat by the astonishing news last Friday that TPC member Tommy Hart, a former Shelby County Commissioner, had been arrested on charges of embezzling thousands of dollars of prize money contributed by bowlers competing in a tournament at a Southaven bowling establishment owned by Hart.

As a member of the TPC’s Educational Policy and Logistics Committee, Hart had been vocal in debate on the several key issues discussed at the TPC’s meeting of Thursday, May 3, just the day before. In general, Colliervillian Hart had served as one of the TPC’s spokespersons for a middle way and had been a mediating force between urban and suburban factions on the Commission.
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There was a turning point, some weeks back, when the TPC engaged in a spirited discussion on whether (and to what extent) the TPC’s calculations on merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools should take into account or even facilitate the plans of six suburban municipalities to extract themselves from the ongoing merger.

As much as anyone else, it was Hart who had shifted the focus of the group back to planning for a full merger involving the 150,000-odd students now enrolled in MCS and SCS. While acknowledging his suburban roots, he declared, “I’m wearing my TPC hat here,” and, in private conversations as well as public statements, he made clear his belief that there was no unanimity of opinion in his own municipality or in the other five — Bartlett, Germantown, Lakeland, Arlington, and Millington — where plans for separate schools system were going forward.

Though it has in the several months of its activity evolved a preliminary merger plan (called “Multiple Achievement Paths”) that would extend maximum autonomy to Memphis and suburban schools, as well as to new charter schools and a state-administered Achievement School District for “failing schools,” the TPC has kept itself focused on the ultimate goal of true consolidation.

Last Thursday’s meeting of the TPC, likely Hart’s last, was probably the first one in a while that made no reference at all, even obliquely, to the looming prospect of an organized breakaway from a unified school system by the suburban municipalities. That was something of an irony, given that state Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville) had in the preceding week willed (and wiled) enabling legislation into being for the suburbs.

What happened last week was elaborate discussion by TPC members concerning the details of meshing the existing educational policies and logistical strategies of MCS and SCS — even to the details of transportation fleets and bell times. Everything was based on the presumption of having to plan for a system covering the whole of Shelby County.

Asked after last week’s meeting about the apparent anomaly involved in the TPC’s focusing on the elaborate aspects of a whole-county merger plan while the General Assembly had opened the lid early for the suburban separatist movement, both TPC chair Barbara Prescott and Richard Holden, co-chair of the TPC’s Educational Policy and Logistics Committee, downplayed the difficulty of translating the Commission’s plans into a smaller focus for a system that wouldn’t include the 50,000-odd suburban students.

Both Prescott and Holden indicated the changes, if necessary, would be adjustments of scale, but the earlier discussions Thursday had seemed to emphasize qualitative as well as quantitative differences between MCS and SCS, presenting an apples-vs.-oranges scenario — arguably as hard to disentangle at a later point as to combine in the first place.

Meanwhile, there was an ex post facto feel to the current line being vended by state Sen. Norris concerning what had been the intentions of the original 2011 bill, popularly known as Norris-Todd and referred to by himself, more formally, as Public Chapter One. Speaking on the WKNO-TV program “Behind the Headlines” last weekend, Norris suggested that the intent of his bill had always been to allow the Shelby County suburbs to prepare themselves for an early exit from merger — to the extent of extricating themselves altogether before that merger even took place.

If so, such an intention was not spoken to in extensive floor discussion on the bill, the final clause of which allowed for the lifting, in Shelby County only, of an existing state ban on new municipal or special school districts after the completion of MCS-SCS merger in August 2013.

No legal authority seems to have interpreted the bill, which became law when signed by Governor Bill Haslam, in the way that Norris is now suggesting — not state Attorney General Robert Cooper, who ruled in March that the suburbs could take no advance steps until August 2013, and not presiding U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays, whose qualified approval last year of the Norris-Todd bill for planning purposes explicitly excluded the issue of new school districts as not “ripe” until merger had been effected.

Hence the very need for new legislation for Norris — specifically HB1104/SB1923, which, as amended, would fill in the blanks left by Norris-Todd and allow Shelby County’s six suburban municipalities to proceed with enabling referenda on independent districts this year.

The immediate response of Governor Haslam, who had urged that no new legislation be rushed before the TPC could complete its work, was that it was not a “given” that he would sign the new bill but that it was unlikely he would veto it. Flash: He said Tuesday he anticipates signing it. End of that none-too-susenseful interlude. As for Judge Mays? He will likely be heard from in the near future.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Haslam: Not a "Given" He'll Sign Norris Bill But Doubts Veto

Posted By on Tue, May 1, 2012 at 8:18 PM

Governor Haslam, flanked by Lt. Gov./Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey (left() and House Speaker Beth Harwell afrer close of 107th General Assembly
  • JB
  • Governor Haslam, flanked by Lt. Gov./Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey (left() and House Speaker Beth Harwell afrer close of 107th General Assembly

NASHVILLE -- Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald and his fellow suburban chief executives can apparently rest easy about the prospect of Governor Bill Haslam’s interposing himself against HB1105/SB1923, the bill just passed by both chambers of the legislature authorizing referenda this year on creating municipal school districts.

In a valedictory meeting with the Capitol Hill press corps following the General Assembly’s adjournment late Tuesday afternoon, Haslam, who had frequently expressed the hope that the Transition Planning Commission could finish its labors on school merger before any legislation was passed, was asked his attitude toward the bill, which was relentlessly pushed by state Senate majority leader Mark Norris of Collierville.

The governor was asked if it was “a given” that he would sign the bill. Haslam responded: “I don’t think anything is a given. Our policy has been that we’ll look at everything when it goes to our desk. So I don’t think anything is a given. We have been having those discussions. As you know, I’ve made my thoughts clear. I really did want to see the [Transition Planning]Commission get their plan out and implement it. So we’ll have to see how all of this impacts that.”

After the formal press conference, Haslam was asked about the matter another way. Was there a chance, given his preference that the TPC to allowed to come to a finish fist, that he would consider vetoing the measure? After praising the TPC again (Haslam: “Their work has been extraordinary”), he said, “We’ll look at it, but, just to be honest, I doubt that we’ll veto it."

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