Memphis suburbs still seeking a way out of school merger, integration

State Rep. Curry Todd files bill to transfer Shelby school buildings to municipal districts

State Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, filed a bill in Nashville on Tuesday that would transfer county school buildings to new municipal school districts for free.

The legislation, which has not yet started through the review process, calls for any indebtedness on the buildings transferred to the municipality to remain with the countywide system.

“That sounds like what we were asking for,” Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald said, acknowledging that he had heard about the bill but not read it.

The bill, House Bill 2954, was one of three regarding education filed by the Collierville House member Tuesday. One only stated that the state department of education would provide assistance to a transition planning commission.

The third bill, however, would open the door for combining individual municipal school districts. It states that if there is consolidation of another school system with the county school system “then two (2) or more cities in the county may create a joint city school system.”

The three proposed bills appear in keeping with the wishes of outlying governments seeking to start their own school systems and comes amid the ongoing debate between the merged Memphis and Shelby County school systems and efforts by the six outlying suburbs to start their own school systems.

The buildings are a key factor in the potential cost for a new municipal school system. Bartlett, for example, has put an estimated value of $65 million on the 11 buildings within that city’s boundaries — a cost that, if the suburb was required to pay for the buildings, would significantly increase the expenses necessary to start a municipal school district.

Todd was co-author of the Norris-Todd bill in last year’s legislative session that allows municipalities to start their own school systems.

Todd’s property transfer bill states that if a city forms a school system in a county following school consolidation, “the county board of education shall convey and transfer title to all county school property lying within the new school system to the new city or joint city board of education.”

McDonald said the legislation is in keeping with the suburban stance that its citizens, as county taxpayers, have paid for the school buildings, or at least a portion of them. And, he said, they will continue to pay the debt service on the bonds that remain with Shelby County by paying county property taxes.

Opponents to the transfer of the facilities have promised to fight any effort for the suburbs to get the buildings, particularly without cost.

When reports of the potential legislation regarding the buildings emerged earlier this month, Shelby County unified school board member Martavius Jones said he will seek class-action status as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit. He repeated that vow Tuesday night.

“It was just a matter of when, not if,” Jones said. “With the work the municipal districts are undertaking, with the efforts of Sen. Norris and Rep. Todd to impede consolidation, I figured this would come about.”

Todd’s proposed legislation also addresses the “rural bonds” for construction costs associated primarily with Arlington High. Residents outside the city of Memphis pay an extra four cents on their county property tax rate to cover those bonds.

The bill states the county and the new municipal school district “shall enter into an agreement as to the disposition of existing bonded indebtedness” regarding the rural bonds.

After transfer of the county buildings to the cities, the municipal system will be responsible for the insurance, operation and any costs associated with the property, plus any future improvements, according to the bill’s language.

Efforts to reach Todd were unsuccessful Tuesday. Rep. Ron Lollar, R-Bartlett, whose district touches several suburbs, said he helped with the research and supports the bill.

“We’ll see how it goes,” he said. “It’s been put in, and we’ll see how it comes out.”

— Clay Bailey: (901) 529-2393

© 2012 Memphis Commercial Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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