By Bill Short
For the second time in less than a year, Millington residents said this week that they would like to create their own municipal school district.
They approved a referendum Tuesday by a vote of 923 or 73.78 percent to 328 or 26.22 percent.
The margin of victory this time exceeded the one for a referendum that was passed on Aug. 2, 2012. That was approved by a vote of 1,338 or 64.42 percent to 739 or 35.58 percent.
Now, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen must pass an ordinance that schedules a new school board election in November. The municipal school district is expected to take effect at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year.
The Tennessee Board of Education requires that, to operate its public schools, a municipal school system must raise and spend local funds each year that are at least equal to the amount that would be raised through a 15-cent tax levy on each $100 of taxable property.
The consulting firm Southern Educational Strategies has determined that, through the Tennessee Basic Education Program funds, Shelby County property tax, the county’s Local Option Sales Tax and what 15 cents would yield on the local property tax, Millington can generate approximately $17,333,000 in revenue each year.
Dr. Jim Mitchell, a partner in SES, has said that, although the expenditure level will probably require $18,518,000, that revenue gap can be closed by the half-cent increase in the local sales tax rate that Millington residents approved last year. He has said the increase will produce an additional $1,386,000 a year for the city.
On April 15, the Tennessee Senate and House of Representatives each passed a bill that repeals the 1998 statewide ban on municipal school districts. The next day, both chambers passed a bill that allows new districts in any county that meets Tennessee Department of Education regulations.
In 2012, the state legislature enacted Public Chapter 905. That bill allowed the six suburban municipalities in Shelby County to conduct referenda last August on whether their residents desired to create their own municipal school districts.
After all the municipalities approved the referenda, they conducted school board elections on Nov. 6, 2012. But a lawsuit had previously been filed in U.S. District Court challenging the constitutionality of Public Chapter 905.
On Nov. 27, 2012, U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays ruled that the law violated Article XI, Section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution. That section prohibits legislation that is local in effect to one particular county.
Consequently, Mays ruled that all actions taken under the authority of Public Chapter 905 were void, including the referenda to authorize municipal schools and the school board elections.
He also ruled that municipal schools could not be created before the merger of Memphis City and Shelby County schools this summer. The unified school district went into effect on July 1.