As previously noted, mid-January — specifically, January 16th, according to Bartlett mayor Keith McDonald — is the deadline for Southern Educational Strategies, a consulting group that has contracted with all six suburban Shelby County municipalities to report to them on the prospects for their forming separate school districts, as permitted by a key provision of the legislature's Norris-Todd bill.
At a town meeting in Bartlett on November 14th, McDonald reasserted his support for his city to hold a referendum on a separate Bartlett system to be established when merger between Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools occurs in September 2013. "In politics you have to be careful on which sword you are willing to die on. I'm willing to die on this one," said McDonald, a member of the 21-member merger Planning Commission established by Norris-Todd.
Interestingly, however, a different sort of resolve was issuing from the man who had been the leading figure in the suburbs' push for special-school-district status in the decade or so leading up to the school-merger developments of the last year.
On November 15th, at a town meeting in Germantown, former SCS chairman David Pickler, now simultaneously a member of the Planning Commission and the interim all-county school board, expressed his support of a merger plan involving "sub-districts" — or, as others normally describe it, a "chancery" model allowing degrees of autonomy within a unified umbrella district. "However we do it," Pickler said, "we've got to do it right. Failure is not an option."
That came after a statement the week before from former Shelby County commissioner Joyce Avery, also member of the Planning Commission, and a resident of suburban Arlington, that she would support a unified district without insisting on a chancery model.
The statements by Pickler and Avery were signs of what could be seen as a backlash in the suburbs against a separatist movement, simultaneous with that movement's picking up steam.
One of the major issues for the outer municipalities to consider, along with that of the additional taxation that would be imposed on their residents, is the cost of acquiring the school buildings and other brick-and-mortar infrastructure of their existing facilities.
McDonald, among others, is strongly of the belief that those acquisition costs are manageable, if they exist at all. And Shelby County commissioner Heidi Shafer — who, like Pickler and Avery, favors a school system incorporating the entire county — said in an interview recorded for this week's edition of the WKNO television program Behind the Headlines that she was convinced that most of the suburban municipalities would attempt to aggregate themselves in a separate school district.
Elaborating later, she said they were likely to attempt some version of eminent domain as a means of claiming the school properties for themselves.
Even so, uncertainty currently reigns among all those charged with handling the complicated issues of the merger. And there was frustration with the open-ended nature of the legislation imposed on the process by the General Assembly.
At the November 17th meeting of the Planning Commission, during a discussion on whether a lawyer should be hired to guide the commission through the complexities of the process, Chairman Barbara Prescott said, "Did Norris-Todd [sic] have any idea what they were doing to us?"
• State senator Jim Kyle of Memphis, the Democrats' Senate leader whose legislative seat is almost certainly earmarked by the dominant Republicans in Nashville for a serious redistricting, has decided to stay the course there, anyhow.
Late last week, Kyle announced that he would not run next year as a Democratic candidate for district attorney general, thereby saying no to what had the makings of a legitimate draft effort among local Democrats seeking an opponent for incumbent District Attorney General Amy Weirich, who will run as a Republican.
Kyle will, however, run for reelection to the state Senate next year, braving whatever contours his northern Shelby County districts will end up having. Kyle's announcement of noncandidacy for district attorney general was in epistolary form to media and potential supporters and said in part:
"As you are likely aware, my law partner suddenly passed away earlier this year. Aside from the unexpected loss of a good and dear friend, his passing meant that the future of the business we had spent years building was in question. At that time, I told my lawyers, staff, and clients that if they stuck with me, we would continue to move forward. They did, and we have. It would be unfair of me to tell them six months later that I was leaving the practice that I had promised to keep together. I have always tried to do the right thing, and I know that this is the right decision for both my family and the people close to me."
Kyle's announcement leaves local Democrats still looking for a candidate to run against Weirich, who numbers several prominent Democrats among her backers. Another Democratic prospect who has acknowledged considering a race for district attorney is former state representative and city councilwoman Carol Chumney.
Meanwhile, Weirich filed her election petition on Tuesday, and her campaign announced fund-raising receipts of $150,000.
Next year's election for district attorney is necessitated by the fact that Weirich, an appointee of Governor Bill Haslam, is filling out the term vacated by her former boss, current state safety and Homeland Security director Bill Gibbons. The filing deadline for next year's county races is only two weeks away, on Thursday, December 8th.
• Most county races — including those for mayor and Shelby County Commission posts — will take place in 2014, at which time a new district map will be in effect.
On November 14th, the commission approved on first reading a plan, designated 1-E, which would divide Shelby County into six dual-member districts and one single-member district. The plan garnered 10 votes from those present, with one abstention, and one "no" vote. The latter came from Commissioner Steve Mulroy, who is holding out for a plan that would feature 13 single-member districts.
Mulroy's reasoning is that multimember districts support what he considers an "incumbency-protection" system, in which the larger expanses of a district would make it more difficult for newcomers to gain election. He also believes that a single-member system would best jibe with the probable creation, ultimately, of a 13-member system for elected county school-board members.
Whatever plan becomes final must pass by a two-thirds vote of the commission on third reading before December 31st.
• Speaking of backlashes: What began some weeks ago as a whisper in Republican Party and county commission circles is now acquiring considerable volume: This concerns the likelihood that Commissioner Terry Roland of Millington will have well-financed primary opposition in 2014.
The outspoken Roland has famously made himself the bête noire of the commission's Democrats with public attacks on their actions and motives. More privately, reservations about Roland have developed among his GOP mates on the commission, several of whom have been heard to grumble and sometimes complain publicly about a variety of matters. These range from allegedly broken pledges of support by Roland for their initiatives, to his improperly claiming credit for such matters as the redistricting plans to a general concern about the Millington commissioner's uninhibited behavior.