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Memphis-Shelby School Merger, Cont’d

A court hearing to untangle the legal mess that is the merger of Memphis city and Shelby County’s school systems proceeded this week. Memphis news outlets say the judge in the case spent much of Thursday quizzing the lawyers for the various governments involved in the case.

Judge Hardy Mays is sorting out how the local referendum to merge the systems, a Memphis City Council vote, and state laws – including one passed this legislative session to guide the merger – work together and how the consolidation should go forward.

The lawyer for the Shelby County Commission, Leo Bearman, argued that the merger was authorized by a Memphis City Council vote approving the school board’s surrender of its charter. He told the judge that a state law, named for its sponsors Sen. Mark Norris and Rep. Curry Todd, had no bearing on the process, the Memphis Flyer reported:

Bearman argued further that a subsequent referendum by Memphis voters … was essentially symbolic and secondary to the Council action and, most intriguingly, that Norris-Todd was irrelevant to the process because its mechanics were based on the incorrect assumption that (Memphis City Schools) was a true special school district rather than a municipal district without taxing authority.

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Education NewsTracker

In Memphis Merger, Here Comes the Judge

A judge has decided to personally mediate the talks between governments over the consolidation of the Memphis and Shelby County school systems, talks that one party has described as futile.

U.S. District Judge Samuel Hardy Mays ordered the Shelby County Schools, Shelby County Commission, Memphis City Schools, Memphis City Council, city of Memphis and state Department of Education to appear today, indicating that he would handle the talks directly after a court-appointed mediator failed to make headway, the Commercial Appeal reports.

Steve Mulroy, a county commissioner and law professor at the University of Memphis, said judicial mediation enhances the “arm-twisting” ability of a judge. The judge can signal strongly that he’s inclined to rule a particular way in order to nudge one or both parties from their stalemated positions.

The parties disagree over the process for merging the two systems. The city, council and commission seek an expanded county school board now, while Shelby County Schools favors a plan passed by the legislature and keeping the Memphis City Schools board as-is until the consolidation process is completed.

County Commissioner Walter Bailey, who represents the commission in the mediation, said the talks so far have been “futile.”

“If this new mediation process does not work Mays’ first order of business would be to decide whether to let the commission move ahead with appointments or grant an injunction sought by five of the seven county school board members to keep the appointment process on hold,” the Memphis Daily News reports.