NASHVILLE — A bill requiring schools in Memphis-Shelby County to divest four of its schools to surrounding municipalities passed the House on Monday, paving the way for a potential school district lawsuit as Germantown seeks to retake a trio of schools he had been looking for since the district’s inception nearly a decade ago.
State Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, sponsored the bill, HB2430, which passed 68-23 Monday night. One representative was present and did not vote.
Dwayne Thompson, D-Cordova, and John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, spoke out against the legislation ahead of the vote. Dwayne Thompson said the bill should not have gone to the General Assembly and Clemmons said the bill was in potential violation of the constitution.
State Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, is sponsoring the Senate bill, SB2315, which is scheduled for next Monday.
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An MSCS lobbyist also called the legislation “unconstitutional” and suggested its passage could lead to legal action because it violates existing agreements by keeping Germantown Elementary, Middle and High School in the MSCS district.
While the mayor of Germantown says the municipality will need land and schools due to expected growth in 15-20 years, a study recently presented to the school board shows the district is expected to stagnate over the next decade. . As written, MSCS officials say the bill’s proposed compensation plan for schools would not be enough to build a new one.
The legislation would also impact Lucy Elementary School, an MSCS school located in Millington.
Asked earlier this month if the district had made any recent offers on the school building, Bo Griffin, Superintendent of Millington Schools, said simply: ‘NO’
White said at the time that no meeting had taken place with the Millington School District. White held 13 meetings with MSCS and the city of Germantown about the other three schools. The Germantown School District was not present at the meetings.
What the law does
Similar to previous proposed legislation relating to schools, the amendment states that county school districts cannot operate within the boundaries of municipal school districts.
The legislation would require the two groups to enter into an ownership agreement. If an agreement is not reached before the start of the school year, the county district will have to transfer the property in question.
The proposal, tabled as an amendment to the bill, clarifies some of the financial elements of the transfer. If the municipal school district or municipal government sells the land within 20 years of the agreement, the net proceeds would be shared, the amendment states, after prior payments to the county are taken into account.
If passed, the new law will come into force on July 1, 2023, a year later than originally planned this year.
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The transition could displace about 3,500 MSCS students attending Germantown schools, which are at capacity, the data shows. If both districts follow a transition plan, incoming students zoned to the school should be split between other MSCS buildings.
The Germantown School District currently has nearly 6,000 students and enrollment is not expected to change over the next 10 years, according to data presented to the school board in January.
The MSCS said ownership of the buildings was a “settled issue”.
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Although all three school buildings are in Germantown, they were ordered by federal court-recognized agreement to be part of the Memphis-Shelby County Schools and not the Germantown Municipal School District when it opened in 2014.
Clemmons, D-Nashville, alleged the legislation “suspiciously violates the constitution” and said introducing it was “walking off a cliff.”
“You can’t backtrack from a settlement agreement with a federal court,” Clemmons said. “Just because you have heartburn over a deal you made eight years ago doesn’t mean you can’t… bring in legislation.”
If the legislation becomes law and Germantown leaders are successful with a required agreement, the city has offered a sale-leaseback option in which Germantown would own the three school buildings of the same name, which currently offer optional school programs for students. of the district.
MSCS, the current owner of the buildings, would pay to rent them to Germantown as enrolled students during a transition period, White and Palazzolo told The Commercial Appeal.
Dwayne Thompson, D-Cordova, said Monday before the vote that “this bill is a matter of local concern and should never have come before the General Assembly.”
He disputed that Germantown Mayor Mike Palazzolo wanted the land and alleged that the City District School Board had “no interest in this” legislation, a claim White later disputed.
“It’s basically the kids or the politicians, it’s the choice here,” said Dwayne Thompson, D-Cordova.
After the proposed transition period is over, the city is considering the land as a potential area for building a new “state-of-the-art” school, White said. Lobbyist Tony Thompson, who represents the MSCS, said Methodist Hospital had expressed interest in the land occupied by the schools. Palazzolo said the city has no plans to sell the property.
“(The interruption of school services) will not be a problem, and I assure you of that personally,” Palazzolo told a Senate committee. “We will work with (MSCS) to continue their operations. … We are prepared to commit to a long-term transition plan so as not to disrupt Germantown or (MSCS) students, family, faculty at these particular schools. “
“We need these campuses and the property for long-term growth,” Palazzolo continued. “And we are committed to using this property for educational purposes and for educational purposes only.”
Laura Testino covers education and childhood issues for the trade appeal. Contact her at [email protected] or 901-512-3763. Find her on Twitter: @LDTestino