Lawsuit remains thorn for districts

The City of Bartlett is moving forward on its plans for a community school despite a pending case in federal court. BE logo square

City attorney Ed McKinney said Monday that an issue regarding equal protection under the U.S. Constitution’s 14th amendment has not been resolved. A federal judge stayed the case several months ago after he ruled that the suburbs’ prior attempt to form their own school districts violated the state constitution.

But now that the state has changed its law and suburbs have voted again to create community schools, the plaintiff in the case – the Shelby County Board of Commissioners – could ask the judge to consider the issue, said McKinney.

“I don’t have control over what action is taken,” he said. “We don’t think it’s meritorious.”

The commissioners sued the state’s education commissioner and the suburbs of Bartlett, Lakeland, Arlington, Germantown, Collierville and Millington after they voted in 2012 to form their own school districts. U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays threw out the votes shortly after the districts elected school board members in July, saying at that time the districts violated state law. That led to a push from state Rep. Ron Lollar and state Sen. Mark Norris to change the law, which the state did in April. All six suburbs then passed ordinances calling for the July 16 referendum where voters soundly approved new districts in each.

That means the county commissioners could ask the judge to consider the federal Constitutionality of the districts now that the suburbs are planning schools again, said McKinney.

“We’re in a holding pattern, but the (suburban) cities are moving forward with their schools,” he said.

Meanwhile, city chief administrator Mark Brown said the city plans to pay Southern Education Strategies to update a feasibility study it created for all the districts in 2012. Several other municipalities also have asked the group to update their studies.

The city will pay $36,000 for its updated study, said Brown. He also said he expects the next action from the city to be the creation of ordinances that will call for school board members to be elected on Nov. 7.