Friday, April 04, 2003

Something More Going On Here?

The Friday Commercial Appeal carries news that State Attorney General Paul Summers has released two opinions regarding City Mayor Willie Herenton's plan to achieve school consolidation.

The story gives lots of space to the first opinion -- that only the City School Board has the power to call a city-wide referendum on dissolving the City schools charter, forcing the County to take them on. It's consolidation by default.

This sets Herenton back, as he's not at all likely to get the school board to play along. He's been unrelentingly critical of them, in his usual high-handed, dismissive style. Nothing he wants will get through them.

There is this delicious bit of irony, though:
"My faith in the school board to give the citizens the right to vote is not very strong,'' Herenton said. "We'll continue to move forward. All I'm pushing for is some democracy."
Coming from the man who was equally dismissive of attempts to force a city-wide referendum on using public funds to built the FedEx Forum, this smells like revenge of a sort.

But the story gives short shrift to the second opinion given by Summers:
However, a second legal opinion left the mayor considering a possible lawsuit to challenge the city school system's right to exist....

Another opinion issued Thursday by Summers gave Herenton a glimmer of hope.

Allan Wade, the City Council's attorney, had raised questions about whether the city school district lost its legal authority to operate years ago.

In response, Summers wrote: "We conclude that while someone might question the legal existence of the school district, until someone challenges it in court and a court decides the issue, the school district continues to exist legally."
The last three paragraphs came at the very end of the story, and raise the most questions.

The basic problem is that Memphis City Schools were created under a special provision of law, and the actual language seems to have provided that the provision expires ninety-nine years after its passage. If you go to the actual opinions, the constitutional issues become entangled in law that goes back to the 1860s! It's dense reading, but Summers seems to be saying that a court is likely to uphold the legality of the Memphis City Schools, but he finds enough muddy language that a challenge might have enough grounds to proceed.

It's a slim reed for Herenton, but I'd imagine that he'll pursue it. And the CA will bird-dog his every step, trying to stop it.

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