The long awaited ruling is here.
Norris-Todd is the controlling law for this transition. All challenges to Norris-Todd were dismissed. The provision allowing the formation of new municipal school districts is in effect. At the end of the 2012-2013 school year, Germantown will be permitted to form a Municipal School District under state law.
The makeup of the SCS Board will change; how soon is still to be determined.
Most people have some familiarity with this case. City interests claimed that MCS no longer exists and that SCS is already responsible for the city schools. The County Commission claimed a right to pack the SCS board with an additional 18 members. If allowed, this would put city interests in charge of the SCS board immediately.
MCS claimed that Norris-Todd should govern the merger BUT claimed that the special/municipal school district provisions of Norris-Todd were unconstitutional. MCS also asked the judge to require the City of Memphis to continue providing maintenance of effort through the end of the transition period.
SCS asked the judge to rule on whether the transition was immediate or delayed under Norris-Todd. A major request from SCS was that the judge prohibit the County Commission from adding any new board members.
Mays found a strange middle ground in his ruling. He declared that MCS will cease to exist in 2013 and will continue to manage city schools until that time. He also found that SCS is immediately “responsible” for the education of city students. This “responsibility” means that city voters must have a voice on the SCS Board. Mays ruled that the current school board districts are unconstitutional because they exclude city residents. He asked the parties to suggest remedies for the “unconstitutional” condition.
He also ruled that the County Commission cannot pack to board with 18 new appointed members. Mays says that the size of the school board is spelled out in the county charter and can only be changed by amending the charter. Charter amendments must go before the voters.
Since the County Commission cannot increase the number of board members, the only obvious solution to the “unconstitutional” nature of the current districts is re-drawing the district lines.
The most likely resolution to the SCS board question is a two step process. In step one, the County Commission would re-draw the boundaries of the seven school board districts. Although Judge Mays dismissed the school board members claims attached to this suit, TN state law does not allow a duly elected official to be deprived of his office. All seven of the current school board members will be allowed to serve out their terms. The effect of re-drawing lines would be to replace the three members whose terms expire in 2012 (Clayton, George, and Wissman) with city representatives in the elections next summer.
The County Commission can be expected to approve an amendment to the County Charter expanding the number of seats on the SCS board. A charter amendment would have to go before the voters, probably on the 2012 ballot. Once approved, the commission would appoint two or four new members. After the 2012 election and the County Commission appointments that would follow, a majority (5-4 or 7-4) of the SCS board members would be Memphis residents.
The Mays ruling includes 16 declarations, or findings:
1) MCS has surrendered their charter under the private act, making SCS “responsible” for city students.
2) Norris-Todd is constitutional and will govern the transition period.
3) MCS has been abolished for all purposes other than winding down their operations.
4) MCS board actions prior to this ruling are valid.
5) SCS is responsible for the education of MCS students and will oversee the transition to a combined district.
6) The MCS board will operate city schools until the summer of 2013.
7) MCS will cease to exist at the end of the 2012/13 school year.
8-10) SCS and MCS will both prepare plans to protect the rights of teachers.
11) The commissioner of education must make a determination as to whether or not the teacher protection plans are adequate.
12) Parties with appointing authority (SCS Board, MCS Board, County Mayor) will make their appointments to the transition committee.
13) The City of Memphis and the Memphis City Council have no authority over the transition.
14) The City of Memphis must continue their maintenance of effort contributions to MCS during the transition.
15) The Shelby County Commission has NO authority to change the number of seats on the SCS board.
16) Current SCS board districts are unconstitutional.