BARTLETT, TN (abc24.com) - A bid by six Shelby County municipalities to start their own school systems were dealt a severe blow Tuesday night, when a federal judge ruled the state law used to create the districts violated the Tennessee constitution.
Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald said the ruling wounded his city's bid, but the effort wasn't dead yet.
U.S. District Judge Samuel "Hardy" Mays issued the 65-page ruling just before 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
The ruling centers around a law passed by the Tennessee Legislature that allowed six Shelby County municipalities, Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland, and Millington, to start their own districts.
Judge Mays said the way the law was written, it could only apply to Shelby County. In such, Mays argued the law was considered special legislation, and hence, unconstitutional.
"Although general in form, Public Chapter 905 is local in effect," Judge Mays wrote. "Because it does not include a provision for local approval, Chapter 905 is VOID under Article 11, Section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution."
"All actions taken under the authority of Chapter 905 are VOID," Mays goes on to write. "The Municipalities are enjoined from proceeding under Chapter 905 to establish municipal school districts."
Voters in all six municipalities passed referendums in August in support of starting their own districts. Under the judge's ruling, the results of those elections are now void.
"It does make it virtually impossible to make that timeline because it sets aside the election, so you got to get the judge to say this is when you can do it. I would say 2013 probably is out of the question," Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald said Tuesday night.
McDonald says Bartlett will now have to meet with its lawyers and decide how to proceed. He said the city has other options, including appealing the judge's decision or starting a Bartlett Charter School.
There is a silver lining for the municipalities. Judge Mays wrote he wants to hear arguments about another portion of the law. That portion would lift the statewide ban on special school districts in the Summer of 2013, once Shelby County and Memphis City Schools are merged.
Mays asked for those arguments to be submitted by December 11th.