Judge hears arguments in suburban schools debate - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Judge hears arguments in suburban schools debate

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

They came Tuesday with their game faces on. The cadre of attorneys hired to represent divergent sides in the school systems merger have "walked the walk" across the City Hall plaza before.

But, set to appear before federal judge Samuel "Hardy" Mays, on the first day of what's expected to be a two-day hearing, they all knew the emphasis was going to be on successfully "talking the talk" of constitutionality.

MORE: Day 1 U.S. District courtroom blog

"What he's taking up now is the question of whether the amendment we passed this year, Public Chapter 905 clarified or confused public Charter One, I suspect is the simplest way to put it and we did it to clarify the law," said Collierville State Sen. Mark Norris.

The proceedings began with the subpoenaed testimony of Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman. Huffman, designated as an "adverse witness" by plaintiff's attorney, Alan Wade, shed little light on the key question posed to him during a plodding 75 minutes on the stand. Specifically when asked point blank if municipal schools are created in six Shelby County suburbs, how will his office react?

Huffman said since he's received no formal notice on the municipalities' intentions, he would have to consult with the State Attorney General's Office as to how to proceed. Huffman also balked at giving a definitive answer to attorney, Rick Colbert, who represents the Memphis and Shelby County Education Associations. Colbert wanted to know if teachers would lose their current tenure if municipalities school systems are allowed to be created?

"There's still as much doubt as there was before," Colbert said. "I know with my discussions with them, there's a lot of anguish among county teachers right now who don't know what the future holds for them. They wonder at this time next year will they have tenure or not? If at this time next year they'll be making the same pay?"

Huffman was followed on the stand by a plaintiffs' expert witness California Professor of Demography, Dr. David Swanson, who used his skills of forecasting future population numbers, to conclude the chances of schools systems in Gibson and seven other smaller counties ever attaining enough population to seek municipal status under the current state most likely means the law only has current application to Shelby County.

"At least to respond to the four or five counties he's already looked at compared to Shelby County. He used the world virtually impossible for any of those places to be like Shelby, which goes to our point," said County Commissioner Mike Ritz.

"Really, a lot of it is not relevant as far as I can tell. They are entitled to use up as much time as they can as long as the court will allow them," added Sen. Norris.

"I believe our case is very sound. I think our lawyers are well-prepared," added Bartlett mayor and municipal schools champion Keith McDonald.

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