New Federal Suit Seeks Judicial Mandate for Immediate All-County School Board.

In action filed Thursday, plaintiffs argue that Memphis City Schools is null and void, that Norris-Todd is inapplicable, and that the county commission should proceed with new county board on one person/one vote grounds.

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Coals-to-Newcastle Dept.: A new federal suit has been filed relative to the ongoing school merger controversy, and this one — aimed primarily at the current Shelby County Schools board and the General Assembly’s recently passed Norris-Todd bill — seeks to declare Memphis City Schools officially null and void and to facilitate the makeover of the SCS board as the governing agency for public schools throughout Memphis and Shelby County.

Styled a “complaint for declaratory judgment and permanent injunctive relief,” the suit, filed Thursday morning, could well end up being absorbed within the case now being adjudged by U.S. District Judge Samuel Hardy Mays, who is due to issue a ruling Monday on whether the Shelby County Commission should be enjoined from proceeding with its plan to appoint 25 members of an interim all-county school board.

The existing federal lawsuit was filed by Shelby County Schools, which was joined in the action by the state Department of Education.

Plaintiffs in the new suit, represented by Allan Wade (who doubles as the City Council's attorney in merger-related cases) are four Shelby County residents: Eddie Jones, Kathryn Leopard, Jason Pearson, and Regina Guy. As the suit notes, all but Leopard are African Americans. Jones, Leopard, and Pearson reside within the Memphis city limits; Guy lives in outer Shelby County.

Essentially, the suit maintains that MCS, as a special school district chartered in 1869, conclusively ceased to be, under terms of a 1961 Private Act, when the Memphis City Council voted to terminate it. The suit further disputes the former legality of MCS as a special school district on grounds that it did not possess taxing authority and maintains that any doubt as to its defunct status was resolved by the Council’s action on February 10 in formally dissolving it.

The suit alleges that the same facts make illegitimate the Norris-Todd bill of this year, which provides for the continuation of the temporary existence of MCS until 2012; the suit further alleges that state law makes the SCS board the proper governing authority for all public schools in Shelby County but that the board, unless reconstituted to reflect proportional representation for all citizens of Shelby County, including Memphis, is in violation of the Constutition’s “one person/one vote” provisions.

Efforts by the currently constituted SCS boad and its sympathizers In the legislature to maintain the existence of two side-by-side school boards and/or to allow the subsequent creation of new special school districts in Shelby county are attributed to “motives wholly unrelated to the best interests of the public school children of the City of Memphis, but rather...purposefully intended to maintain the current racial balance of the two (2) school systems.”

Formally, the Shelby County Commission is designated as a co-defendant (along with county mayor Mark Luttrell), but the suit essentially seeks a judicial mandate for the county commission to continue with actions it has already initiated under its proposed 25-district formula — in the language of the suit: “to adopt a plan establishing districts from which members the Board of Education of the Shelby County Schools can be elected that guarantees to all qualified voters of Shelby County one-man one vote guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

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