Chancellor Evans Approves Consent Decree for Charter-Surrender Referendum

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The way has been cleared legally for a city-voters-only referendum on surrender of the Memphis City Schools charter, the remaining precondition for merger of MCS with Shelby County Schools. But legislative action could still complicate the issue.

A suit filed late Wednesday by attorney Allan Wade for the ad hoc group Citizens for Better Education bore fruit early Thursday, as the plaintiffs and attorneys for the Shelby County Election Commission agreed to a consent order in the courtroom of Chancellor Walter Evans.

The order provides for the referendum to be held within 45 to 60 days from the date of the decree. That would put the outside date for the referendum at March 13, though the date of March 7, already scheduled for a state House District 98 special election, is more likely to be chosen.

No word yet from Nashville on whether state Senator Mark Norris, the Republican Majority Leader, will now file his bill calling for a year-long stand-down in resolving the showdown between MCS and SCS, followed by a dual referendum of city and county voters on any charter surrender.

Proponents of school consolidation were quick to call the bill a ruse, or, as City Councilman Shea Flinn, a supporter of a charter-surrender referendum, termed it, a “veto” of school consolidation.

Norris had withheld filing the bill, he had said Wednesday, pending resolution of another “compromise” agreement which included the year-long stand-down, followed by an all-county aggregate vote on charter surrender. This, too, was viewed with suspicion by advocates of an MCS charter surrender.

Whatever impetus there might have been toward such an agreement, and there seemed to be little, may have been rendered obsolete by Chancellor Evans’ order.

Given that state House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville has explicitly declared a willingness to assist GOP legislators in Shelby County in fast-tracking bills on the volatile school issue, there exists the very real probability that a measure like Norris’ could be vetted and expedited before a referendum on charter surrender could occur.

An even stronger action by legislative opponents of a charter surrender could be immediate action to create a Special School District for Shelby County Schools. It was talk of such legislation from SCS board chairman David Pickler which precipitated the MCS board's December 20 vote in favor of surrendering the city school system's charter.

Should such a fait accompli occur before a city referendum on MCS charter surrender, the legal landscape would be teeming with issues and conflicting premises requiring adjudication.

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