MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Federal Judge Samuel Mays has a message for the Unified School Board: there will be no merger delay. Come the first of July, he says both Memphis City and Shelby County schools will merge and that's that. If he has to, he'll appoint what's called a case master to make sure things get done.
The judge didn't deal with any possible court hearings down the road. He didn't talk about legislation in Nashville. Behind closed doors he told all involved, including lawyers for the school board, to quit complaining and get to work.
The plaza area between the Federal Building and Memphis City Hall is sort of a no man's land. Lawyers step out into this area at their own risk. This is the only area reporters and photographers are allowed to stand, so if anybody involved in the municipal schools case walks here they'd better be ready for questions.
This day was easy, because Judge Mays only talked about the merger starting this summer.
Tom Cates, attorney for the suburbs, stated, "That was the only issue that he talked about today."
There has been all sorts of talk from the Unified School Board about putting the whole thing off. Anybody who wants that to happen apparently is going to be very disappointed, because Judge Mays said simply - there will not be any delays, period.
"In 2011 the court entered a consent decree that mandated the two school systems would come together at the beginning of the 2013 school year," said Memphis City Council attorney Allan Wade. "He wanted to know where they were on that process because as he views it, that has to happen."
No matter what happens with the municipal school issue, next year every public school student in Shelby County will go to the unified schools.
Cates asserted, "You'd better start doing something. You'd better decide who's going to be a teacher, who's going to provide maintenance, driving buses, all of these issues, and time is getting short."
Shelby County Commission Chariman Mike Ritz says board members have no right to complain because, in his words, they created this mess all by themselves.
"The turn here is, I think what has happened is the judge feels his order of 2011 isn't being implemented by the school board and the citizens probably feel the same way," he said.
Mike Ritz isn't a big fan of the school board right now. He calls its budget, which would need 145 million more dollars just to balance, a joke.
The judge isn't laughing, putting all other issues in the complicated lawsuit concerning municipal schools on the back burner. The merged system has to be ready, he says.
"Whatever the state does is not going to impact 2013. Kids have to go to school in 2013. So whatever the state does, the state does. But you have to have a school system up and running by 2013," said Wade.
Ritz added, "Everything that has been going on decision wise - appointing a superintendent, this budget fiasco, the closing of the schools, the privatization things - they know what they're supposed to do to make the budget work and they're not doing any of it."
This past weekend, county commission members let the school board folks know that there is no way that they will even consider a budget that's $145 million in the red.