Press Release from the House of Representatives Democratic Caucus; Feb. 11, 2011:
Democrats Express Disappointment in Timing of Haslam Signature
(Nashville) – House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner expressed disappointment in Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature to a bill that would strip the rights of the city of Memphis to manage its own school system and allow for special school districts to be formed within Shelby County.
House and Senate Republicans in their first order of business of 2011 started by taking over the consolidation of Memphis and Shelby County Schools.
The result – House Bill 51, which passed the Senate Monday and the House on Thursday, shows that the Republican Leadership will not hesitate to impose its own will on local school systems, even if it means creating laws to strip away local control.
“We’re disappointed that the bill was signed into law in little more than 24 hours,” said Turner (D-Old Hickory). “We have been talking with the administration about our willingness to work together on a bi-partisan basis. We have never seen a bill signed into law so quickly. I and the Democratic Leadership had hoped to talk to the governor about vetoing this legislation.
“My understanding was that he had deep concerns about the implications of going against the will of local government. I hope that this isn’t an indication of what’s in store, because we don’t want to throw our call for bi-partisan governing out the window this early in the year.”
The bill would put total control of consolidation in the hands of a newly created “transition planning commission” with twenty one members. Memphis Schools, with 103,000 members, would get five members of the commission, appointed by the chair of the School Board. By contrast, Shelby County, with just 47,000 students in its system, would have twice the board members, with five appointed by the county school board and five appointed by the County Mayor.
The Shelby County Commission as well as the Memphis City Council voted to oppose the legislature’s involvement. These votes were ignored by the Senate and House Republican leadership.
The new law would make the county mayor a member but reject inclusion of the city mayor, therefore excluding inner city influence in the determination of a new school system.
The House Democratic Caucus is urging all Tennesseans to contact their legislators as new efforts to appeal this law and protect local schools will be a new initiative in the coming days and weeks, Turner said.